As a public service, Shaw Media will provide open access to information related to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) emergency. Sign up for the newsletter here
When the coronavirus pandemic was still new – in April – the Kane County Health Department would ask the Sheriff’s Office to check out complaints it received about businesses not wearing masks or otherwise not following CDC guidelines.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the sheriff’s office provided a multitude of reports on its responses, from April 7 through Sept. 26.
In the early days of the pandemic, the sheriff’s office would call a business and ask if the complaint was true, then would report back to the health department.
Reports came from throughout the county, and covered a variety of businesses, records show.
Deputies called everywhere to follow up on allegations of:
• Medical offices where sick employees had contact with patients
• A food manufacturing company where an employee tested positive and social distancing was not enforced
• A mortgage company requiring employees to work without social distancing
• A bakery that did not allow workers to wear masks and let too many customers in
• A car dealership where employees stood too close to each other and did not wear masks
• A chiropractic office where no precautions were taken by staff when interacting with patients
• A nursing home that was not providing personal protective equipment to its staff
• A sandwich shop and a hamburger restaurant where staff were not wearing masks
• Multiple reports of grocery stores where employees were not wearing masks or gloves
• Multiple reports of factories without enough equipment for employees to take proper precautions
• Multiple reports of restaurants where employees were not wearing masks
• Farms and other event centers that hosted weddings and events for too many people and where social distancing was not being followed
The Kane County Chronicle is not publishing the names of businesses that deputies responded to because they all complied with the guidelines for COVID-19.
As the pandemic wore on, deputies started going to the businesses being reported on in person.
One report from May 19 was a veterinary clinic where staff did not wear masks – but the veterinarian wore one that stated “This mask is useless.”
“Despite the governor’s order, she had scientific data that most masks do not protect for the transmissions of COVID-19,” the report stated.
After encouragement from deputies, however, she agreed that she and staff would comply with wearing masks and social distancing, the report stated.
Another business was Luau Coffee, 40W450 Route 64, Campton Hills, where signs were posted, “Enter at your own risk, you are entering a mask free zone.”
“I also observed that both employees working behind the counter were not wearing masks or gloves,” the report from July 30 stated.
The deputy met with the business owner and advised him if he did not follow state guidelines, he could potentially lose his health department license or be shut down, the report stated.
The business owner “stated that he believed that it was his right as a citizen not to have to be subjected to the state mandates and he felt that his sign would act as a deterrent to anyone who did not want to enter,” the report stated.
A deputy returned on Sept. 4 to further document Luau Coffee’s lack of compliance.
The sign has been changed to state people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks are exempt from Governor Pritkzer’s order.
“If we see you without a mask, we will assume you have a medical issue and will welcome you inside to support our business,” the new sign states.
Health Department spokeswoman Susan Stack said they have involved the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office to see if there is something they can enforce.
“We are going back and forth with them,” Stack said. “We are bound by what the law and guidelines allow us to do. We are proceeding cautiously.”
Sheriff, health department 'in lock-step'
Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain said it was part of their job to help the health department on the outset of the pandemic.
“We were working in lock-step with them and one of our commissions was business complaints,” Hain said. “We were under the belief early on and in agreement with the health department not to offend anyone and not have police in uniform going in if we could handle it with a phone call.”
However, if complaints continued, Hain said, a deputy would be sent out in uniform and have a one-on-on discussion about how to get into compliance.
Only two required action, the Smithfield Foods, 410 Kirk Road, St. Charles which was shut down for a time, and the Weber Grill company, 14100 Weber Drive, Huntley, Hain said.
Smithfield was closed for a time and Weber beefed up its cleaning with a service and re-arranged its break room so tables were six feet apart, according to an April 20 report.
“We put that back to the health department and let them guide our actions on enforcement,” Hain said.
Stack said they received many calls about COVID-19, but now they have other ways complaints can be received.
Complaints can come through municipalities, police agencies phone calls and online at COVIDConcerns@co.kane.il.us, Stack said.
“We appreciate when the public contacts us. We get a lot of complaints that a business is doing something that is causing harm or potential harm in the community and they alert us,” Stack said.
“Enforcement is difficult, because we are asking the public to comply to the guidance we provide,” Stack said. “It’s an emotional issue for a lot of people. People want things to be the way they used to be. We’re doing our best to keep everybody safe, healthy and educated.”
Now the department has a cataloging system where complaints are sent to the right person to handle that.
Each case is different and there are times when a facility or restaurant has to be contacted repeatedly to get them to understand what to do, Stack said.
“Masks help stop the spread of the disease and it’s also up to the business owners to enforce that,” Stack said. “It’s our job to educate them and enforce when we can.”