Defiant Illinois business owner: ‘If everybody would open up, they would have to give in’

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In some of the Illinois counties where local officials are enforcing COVID-19 restrictions, some businesses continue to operate in defiance.

Others have demanded justification for the restrictions.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s latest restrictions put all the state’s 11 regions of his Restore Illinois plan in Phase 4 Tier 3, which prohibits indoor service at bars and restaurants while retail businesses can allow customers in at 25 percent capacity. Attorney Thomas DeVore, who represents businesses across the state in COVID-19 challenges, said he’s aware of only a handful of the state’s 102 counties taking enforcement action.

It’s unclear when such statewide mitigations being used by local officials to justify the enforcement will be lifted. Pritzker gave no timeline.

In a live video shared on Facebook on Thursday of Champaign County health inspectors filling out forms after witnessing indoor dining at Lil Buford’s, owner Jeff Buckler said he’s taking a stand despite being fined $500 a day for allowing people to dine inside his restaurant.

“COVID rates are down, go to Walmart, go to Target, go to any other shopping mall and it’s packed beyond belief,” Buckler told the county officials. “We’ve got nine people in here.”

Buckler then asked the officials if there were any instances of COVID-19 transmission in his establishment, to which he didn’t get a specific answer.

“How are you shutting me down for something you don’t know anything about,” Buckler said, refusing to sign anything.

“My intent is to fight this tyranny that we’re being stuck with,” he said on the video. “Enjoy your Christmas. I know the employees won’t of all the places you’re shutting down.”

Buckler later told WMAY radio he’s taking a stand despite being fined $500 a day for allowing people inside to eat. He said other establishments in the county are also operating in defiance of the indoor prohibition.

“If everybody would open up, they would have to give in,” Buckler said. “People are scared. People do what they’re told. We’re sheep being led to the slaughter.”

In Springfield on Saturday, business owner Ryan Bandy organized a protest outside the Governor’s Mansion.

“If we’re going to take someone’s livelihood away, have some science and data that clearly justifies why it’s necessary,” Bandy said. “That’s all we’re asking.”

Statewide, data from the Illinois Department of Public Health shows restaurants make up around 4 percent of all outbreak locations. That’s behind 10 other categories of places of outbreaks. Bars make up around 3 percent. Bars and restaurants make up around 5 percent of potential exposure locations, behind six other categories of places.

Bandy said local officials are picking winners and losers and retail is winning.

“But the losers in this situation are people like my bartender Jill,” Bandy said. “These mitigations by Gov. Pritzker have hugely impacted Jill’s income that she was making.”

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