By Joe Boyle
New restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus are now being applied for the first time in suburban Cook County, which does not surprise two local mayors.
"Sorry to say this but we kind of knew it was coming," said Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett. "In the last month, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, we have seen a 75-percent surge."
State public health officials have called for new restrictions that went into effect at 11 p.m. this past Wednesday in suburban Cook County. Indoor service at bars and restaurants will be forbidden. Restaurants and bars must close at 11 p.m. Gatherings of patrons will be limited to a maximum of 25.
Similar restrictions are already in place in Regions 7 and 8, including DuPage, Kane, Kankakee and Will counties.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during a COVID-19 briefing Monday afternoon in Peoria that an increase in hospitalizations and cases are the chief reasons for the restrictions.
"So, no matter where in Illinois you call home, as you go about your daily lives, remember that this is not over," Pritzker said. "There seems to be a COVID storm on the rise. And we have to get prepared."
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the state's seven-day average test positivity rate was 6.3 percent statewide as of Monday. This is the highest total since June 2.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were concerned about overwhelming our hospitals and we must take action now to prevent that possibility,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the Illinois Department of Public Health director.
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said that she received word Monday that there has been no alarming increase in hospitalizations at Advocate Christ Medical Center.
While pleased with that information, Bury added that she is not surprised at the dining restrictions imposed by state health officials.
"We have seen a trend and it has been going up," Bury said. "It has been going up in Will County and Kane County. So, I'm not surprised. It's a really tough situation for our small businesses."
"We have had to check on some of our bars," Bennett said. "The police have seen some of the bars that were overloaded. We had to tell them to knock it off. It's numbers like these that make you concerned. The hope is that they will start to pay attention. We have had to have the police go to restaurants and bars and remind the owners and patrons to wear masks and social distance."
Bury said that everyone needs to do their part to reduce the amount of cases that are rising in the state.
"Let's support these businesses the best we can," pleaded Bury. "We can do this even if we take carry-outs. We could leave a tip."
The Oak Lawn mayor added that she believes many business owners will use some ingenuity to remain afloat.
"People will get creative, but this is tough," Bury said. "But I still see some people who don't take this seriously. If we can do simple things it would help. Just wear a mask. I know it can be a hassle but really it's not a big deal. I mean, let's just do it. Kids want to go back to school and businesses want to remain open."
Bennett reminded everyone that sacrifices have to be made to deal with the virus.
"Nobody wants to see this," Bennett said. "It's not just going to go away, we all know that."
Bury agrees that it takes residents and business leaders to work as a unit to deal with the pandemic. History is a great teacher, she said.
"If we work together, we can get through this," Bury said. "When I look back at the past 100 years, we got through the Spanish flu, World War I and World War II. People would pull together and we did it through humor and helping each other out. That's how we can overcome this."