CRACK­DOWN ON COVID-19 SCOFFLAWS

Ware­house party shut down as part of city’s ef­fort to cut down on large pub­lic and pri­vate gath­er­ings

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man

A week­end ware­house party that ad­ver­tised it­self as drag­ging on un­til 4 a.m. — with­out masks or so­cial dis­tanc­ing — was shut down as part of a City Hall crack­down on large pub­lic and pri­vate gath­er­ings that of­fi­cials feared could turn into su­per-spreader events.

Busi­ness Af­fairs and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sioner Rosa Es­careno, con­cerned about what she called “go-rogue” large par­ties, formed a task force “with the goal of shut­ting them down be­fore they be­gin.” The task force in­cludes three other city de­part­ments — CPD, CFD and the De­part­ment of Build­ings.

Dur­ing the first week­end of op­er­a­tions, 23 in­ves­ti­ga­tions were con­ducted. That re­sulted in five cease-and-de­sist or­ders for il­le­gal pub­lic places of amuse­ment and three im­me­di­ate clo­sures.

The most egre­gious tar­get was a party at 4106 W. Chicago Ave., touted on EventBrite as start­ing at 10 p.m. and last­ing un­til 4 a.m. with $20 tick­ets sold at the door.

That set off alarm bells, since no place is sup­posed to be open af­ter mid­night, Es­careno said.

In­side, city of­fi­cials found peo­ple with­out masks, obliv­i­ous to main­tain­ing so­cial dis­tance at what Es­careno called an “un­li­censed es­tab­lish­ment” that was pro­vid­ing liquor with no liquor li­cense.

Ci­ta­tions were is­sued to the venue op­er­a­tor for “dif­fer­ent vi­o­la­tions to the liquor li­cense code as well as the COVID . . . . The good thing about that is that we caught it early. We shut it down very early. But if you go on EventBrite right now, that lo­ca­tion is con­tin­u­ing to ad­ver­tise,” Es­careno said Mon­day dur­ing a con­fer­ence call with City Hall re­porters.

“We are ex­tremely con­cerned about these il­le­gal par­ties that are po­ten­tially caus­ing some of the in­crease in the cases . . . . We are con­cerned about in­creas­ing num­bers that will likely have an im­pact on our en­tire city.”

The venue op­er­a­tor, iden­ti­fied by the city as Clark Golembo, could not be reached for com­ment.

Es­careno said most restau­rants and bars hold­ing pri­vate events are “do­ing a great job” of ad­her­ing to the 25% of ca­pac­ity or 50-per­son max­i­mum — which­ever is less.

“We have found ac­tu­ally great com­pli­ance, un­like the un­li­censed, kind of go-rogue par­ties that we are look­ing into, which are the ones that are be­com­ing prob­lem­atic and are the ones that we are def­i­nitely fo­cus­ing on. It’s what we ac­tu­ally need to stop and we need your help,” she said, promis­ing to pin­point il­le­gal par­ties through so­cial me­dia post­ings and 911 calls.

Last week, the Light­foot ad­min­is­tra­tion threw a life raft to bars forced to close to in­door ser­vice to pre­vent a con­tin­ued surge in cases among young peo­ple.

Busi­nesses that serve al­co­hol with­out a re­tail food li­cense were al­lowed to tem­po­rar­ily op­er­ate on their front side­walk, but only if they: iden­tify a “part­ner food es­tab­lish­ment” to en­sure cus­tomers can or­der food to eat at the bar; main­tain at least 6 feet for pedes­tri­ans; and sur­round their seat­ing area with a bar­rier.

The tem­po­rary per­mit has al­ready given “over 250 bars and restau­rants the abil­ity to op­er­ate out­side quickly and safely,” Es­careno said.

“When the bars were asked to close as part of the roll­back a cou­ple of weeks ago, it was im­por­tant for us to al­low them to ex­pand. But there was con­cern about hav­ing peo­ple just drink­ing out­side. So we felt that it’s a nice pair­ing to con­tinue to make it about ex­panded food and ex­panded din­ing,” the com­mis­sioner said.

“They have to sub­mit a food part­ner . . . . It could be the restau­rant down the street that can ac­tu­ally de­liver . . . . They could [also] have a li­censed food caterer at their lo­ca­tion. For us, that’s ex­tremely im­por­tant . . . . Two busi­nesses com­ing to­gether at an un­prece­dented time.”

Es­careno ad­vised busi­ness own­ers to put up signs and call 911 to re­port pa­trons who “be­come bel­liger­ent” and refuse to wear face masks and main­tain so­cial dis­tance.

“They need to es­tab­lish strong pro­to­cols. Bot­tom line. And they should refuse ser­vice if in­di­vid­u­als are not ad­her­ing to the guide­lines,” she said.

“If we step in and we iden­tify peo­ple with no face masks, then the busi­ness is the one that’s go­ing to be cited. To avoid that, they need to strengthen their poli­cies and pro­to­cols.”

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said White House coro­n­avirus task force leader Dr. Deb­o­rah Birx hurt the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion when she said wide­spread virus in­fec­tions in ur­ban and ru­ral Amer­ica mark a “new phase” for the pan­demic.

It was a rare re­buke of Birx. Trump ac­cused her of tak­ing

“the bait” by re­spond­ing to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who told ABC’s “This Week” that she had lost con­fi­dence in Birx be­cause Trump ap­pointed her and the pres­i­dent has been spread­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion about the virus.

Trump, in a tweet Mon­day, de­scribed Birx’s re­sponse to Pelosi as “pa­thetic.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Birx said her com­ments are driven by data and that she would stake her 40-year ca­reer on us­ing data to im­ple­ment pro­grams to save lives.

Mean­while, on Mon­day, Birx said she’s watch­ing so-called “yel­low states” where cases are in­creas­ing, and she ex­pressed con­cern about Mis­souri and Ten­nessee.

Birx and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, chair of the task force, com­mented dur­ing a pri­vate con­fer­ence call Mon­day with gov­er­nors. The As­so­ci­ated Press ob­tained a record­ing of the dis­cus­sion.

Birx said she’s see­ing im­prove­ment in Sun Belt states and sin­gled out Ari­zona for praise. Pence told ev­ery­one to “just keep up the good work.” Pence also en­cour­aged gov­er­nors to re­open schools.

Mall of Amer­ica park re­open­ing

The Mall of Amer­ica said the Nick­elodeon Uni­verse amuse­ment park in­side the Bloom­ing­ton, Min­nesota, mall will re­open Aug. 10 af­ter be­ing closed nearly five months due to COVID-19.

Among other mea­sures, guests 3 years and older will be re­quired to wear face masks at all times, in­clud­ing for the du­ra­tion of each at­trac­tion.

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

De­part­ment of Busi­ness Af­fairs and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sioner Rosa Es­careno speaks dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in June.

SCREEN­SHOT/EVENTBRITE

An on­line in­vi­ta­tion for an event Fri­day that prompted ac­tion from the city.

Dr. Deb­o­rah Birx

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