STERLING – Two area businesses were issued formal warnings from the Whiteside County Health Department last week for not following public safety guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, the first time department staff have used those enforcement tools.
According to WCHD records obtained by Sauk Valley Media through a Freedom of Information Act request, the two businesses — Shooter's Bar, 2404 West Fourth Street in Sterling, and Hunter's Sports Bar 2, 6406 Penrose Road in Fulton — received written warnings from the WCHD after its staff followed up with and substantiated complaints alleging a violation of the protocols.
The two noncompliance warnings are the first, and the only, to have been issued in Whiteside County since they were established in August by a state legislative panel as a tool county health departments could use to enforce virus guidelines at businesses.
Hunter's noncompliance warning was issued at noon on Oct. 6 for "employees not wearing masks," and was given until the end of the day to "take the necessary steps to address non-compliance with [s]tate guidelines," according to the records.
Shooter's noncompliance warning was issued at 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 8 after a WCHD agent "observed facility staff not wearing masks nor enforcing masking of patrons," the records show.
The bar was directed to resolve the noncompliance by Oct. 10, according to the warning.
Richard Nolan, the co-owner of Shooter's, declined to comment on the warning.
Roger Vogel, who owns Hunters, could not be reached for comment.
By failing to wear masks, employees at both businesses were specifically not complying with Section 690.509(c)(2) of the emergency regulations adopted and added to the state's Control of Communicable Diseases Code by the Illinois Department of Public Health on Aug. 7.
The section states that "any business, service, facility or organization open to the public or employees shall require employees, customers, and other individuals on the premises who are over age two and able to medically tolerate a face covering to cover their nose and mouth with a face covering when on premises and unable to maintain at least a six-foot social distance."
The section allows bars and restaurants that offer "in-person consumption" to permit employees and customers to remove their face coverings while eating or drinking, but states that individuals "must require face coverings at all other times."
"Businesses, services, facilities or organizations that take reasonable efforts to require patrons and employees to wear a face covering shall be in compliance with this subsection," the emergency regulations state.
While enforcement of the regulations falls on county health departments, WCHD administrator Cheryl Lee has said the department does not seek out violations and does not intend to be punitive in its enforcement.
Instead, the department relies on a complaint-based system to investigate businesses.
After a citizen submits a complaint, a health department inspector will call or visit the business to share information on the guidelines.
"We follow up on every complaint, and most of them turn out to be invalid," Lee said earlier this month, adding that additional education of the protocols typically resolves the issue.
When a second complaint is received, health department staff visit the business. If an inspector observes a violation of the guidelines — like employees not wearing face coverings or enforcing social distancing of patrons — then the inspector issues a written non-compliance warning.
The warning identifies the violation and directs the business to amend it by a certain date.
Sauk Valley Media previously reported that WCHD responded to 29 complaints in August, at least seven complaints in September and eight complaints in October of potential emergency rule violations.
None of those complaints, except for the two related to Shooter's and Hunter's, led to a non-compliance warning.
Sauk Valley Media also previously reported that WCHD has recorded 28 separate complaints alleging violations of the Oct. 3 resurgence mitigations.
If a business fails to rectify the non-compliance or fails to comply with another guideline, health department officials may order it to have some or all of the people its premises disperse.
No dispersal orders or higher penalties have been issued to a Whiteside County business, records show.
A business that does not comply after three non-compliance warnings could have its food permit or liquor license pulled, and it will be referred to the state's attorney for an injunction of order to close.
A business that does not comply with an order to disperse will be hit with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.