DECATUR — A committee is recommending that the restaurants and bars in Macon County be allowed to provide indoor service, with precautions in place, despite any restrictions that may be imposed by the state.
The recommendations received unanimous approval Tuesday during a meeting of the county board’s Environment, Education, Health and Wellness Committee.
Committee Chairwoman Linda Little said the goal of the resolution is to open restaurants and bars to 25% capacity with masks in place until seated, social distancing between tables and other regulations.
"And it has a time limit," she said.
In three months, the committee will review the county's COVID status.
For the recommendations to take effect, it would require a change in the county food sanitation ordinance limiting or eliminating the county health departments enforcement of the state's COVID restrictions, which currently prohibit indoor food and drink service, among other things to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Health department officials said those changes could include prohibiting any COVID enforcement or limiting it to capacity and social distancing violations.
"The purpose of the resolution is to address the current situation," Little said and its impact on local businesses.
Prior to voting on the resolution, the committee members heard from people on both sides of the issue, including residents, business owners and the health department.
Decatur resident Sandra Lindberg said survival is important during the pandemic. It starts with health.
“Losing 5% of our local economy won’t kill our county,” she said. “Increasing infections and deaths in the county threatens everyone and everything about us.”
James Gentry, owner of Texas Roadhouse in Forsyth, was among those offering the business perspective.
“I have three children, I have 130 employees,” he said. “I love all of them.”
Restaurant owners have made alterations to the buildings and facilities to accommodate the regulations.
“I want my people safe,” Gentry said. “The problem isn’t the restaurants. When you’re at home you’re not regulated. When you’re in my restaurant, you’re regulated.”
Opponents of local enforcement of the restrictions noted businesses in neighboring counties are open and local residents are traveling to those places to dine.
“Springfield is right there and opened,” Gentry said. “We should be open too for our people. But we should be safe.”
Kathy Wade has worked for the Macon County Health Department for 17 years. She said she has never experienced a health crisis compared to the current situation. “This is the first time I have ever seen a pandemic of this magnitude come to our county,” she said.
Her concerns with a possible change in the ordinance is the loss of certification if they are not following the state laws protecting the health of the community. “We could lose grant funding, we may have to pay grants back, and we may have grants stripped from us.”
Other community members would suffer, she said.
“This affects a lot more than the restaurants,” Wade said.
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Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR