USA

McHenry County restaurants, bars file lawsuit challenging COVID-19 closure of their establishments

Thirty-seven restaurants and bars in McHenry County filed suit Thursday against Gov. J.B. Pritzker and health officials, trying to prevent enforcement of an order to shut down indoor service, which is meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

A hearing was set in the matter for Friday, one day before the shutdown was scheduled to take place in Lake and McHenry counties. A similar order has been imposed in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kankakee and Will counties, and other parts of Illinois.

The suit is the latest in a spate of legal actions against the governor’s executive orders aimed at limiting the pandemic. A similar suit in Kane County this week led to a court order allowing FoxFire restaurant in Geneva to keep operating despite the order, which the state is appealing. In addition, numerous restaurants statewide are simply defying the shutdown.

The attorney who filed the suit, John Dickson, said a co-owner of Andy’s Restaurant of Crystal Lake called him in tears.

“They’re terrified,” he said. “She’s terrified if they get shut down again, they’re going out of business after a 40-year run. They’re still bleeding from the first shutdown from March to June and haven’t fully recovered. A second shutdown is probably going to put most over the edge.”

He based the legal challenge in part on the state law that gives the governor power to issue executive orders in an emergency, as Pritzker first did in March, but limits that power to 30 days. Some courts previously have upheld the governor’s power to issue consecutive orders to extend that time period indefinitely, but a downstate judge ruled this summer that the governor may not do so, a case that the state is also appealing.

Dickson argued that time extension is nowhere in the law, and the governor should negotiate with lawmakers over what emergency powers he should have. The suit also notes that the state Department of Public Health requires a court order to shut down a public place.

State authorities did not respond immediately for comment but have fought restrictions on the governor’s orders in other cases. The McHenry County Department of Health said it had not yet reviewed the suit.

Pritzker and health officials have said the closures are necessary to prevent dangerously rising numbers of deaths, hospitalizations and cases linked to COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the disease primarily is spread by tiny droplets in people’s breath, within a range of 6 feet.

However, prolonged exposure in an enclosed space can encourage transmission beyond that. Health officials say restaurants and bars are at higher risk of spreading the virus because people are close together for an extended time. One study showed people with COVID-19 were twice as likely to have been to a bar or restaurant as those who tested negative.

Restaurant owners counter that health officials should take action against restaurants where outbreaks occur, rather than a blanket closure of all their businesses, while other retail and entertainment businesses remain open.

More than 30 plaintiffs include Tony’s Café in Crystal Lake, BBQ King Smokehouse in Huntley, Cary Ale House and Brewing Co., the Public House on the town square in Woodstock, Cucina Bella in Algonquin, Rosati’s in Harvard, and Around the Clock Restaurant in Crystal Lake.

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