Cease and desist letter directs county’s top health official to stop COVID-19 mitigation enforcement activities, remove list of violators
ROCKFORD — A downstate attorney has sent a cease and desist letter to Winnebago County Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell advising her to not proceed with any COVID-19 mitigation enforcement against three area bars.
The three establishments — Casey’s Pub and Fozzy’s Bar and Grill of Loves Park and Nora’s Place of South Beloit — were named by Martell on Monday as businesses under investigation for non-compliance of Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order regarding statewide efforts to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Martell named 30 area businesses in total, saying that the Winnebago County Health Department would be following up with those businesses and seeking corrective action where necessary.
The letter, dated Oct. 6, accuses Martell of trying to intimidate area businesses and questions her authority to take any action against them.
“With all the tactics of intimidation I’ve witnessed in the last couple of months against the good people of this state, your actions against my clients by publicly listing their businesses names as an alleged law breakers tops the list,” attorney Tom DeVore states in his letter. “Your actions are not only defamatory, but border on criminal intimidation.”
DeVore demands that Martell remove the list of businesses that have been issued notices of non-compliance of the state’s order that is posted on the health department’s website and not seek any actions against his clients.
Failure to do so, DeVore states, will result in legal action against the health department, the county and Martell.
“The Winnebago County Health Department enforces health regulations and has never been delegated by any authority by the legislature to be the governor’s ‘henchmen’ to threaten enforcement of the unenforceable,” DeVore states. “Unless your department has recently been delegated the full power of the legislature, we find no purpose for your tactics, other than to be another tool of intimidation being wielded against the small businesses of Illinois by the executive branch.”
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Martell said the department’s work to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and protect the public health of Winnebago County would continue.
“The Winnebago County Health Department will continue its enforcement procedures as outlined and posted on the health department website,” Martell said.
Martell stated that she is disappointed that “a very small number of restaurants/bars in our community sought legal guidance from a representative outside of our community.”
DeVore came to Rockford on Oct. 1 and spoke to an audience of hundreds who gathered in banquet rooms at Giovanni’s to hear his presentation about their rights as business owners and patrons under the state’s new executive order.
DeVore advised attendees that they were under no legal obligation to follow the order, which directs bars and restaurants to cease indoor bar and dining services until the region’s COVID-19 positivity rate falls below 6.5% for three days.
As of Sunday, the most recent day data is available, the rate was 8.6%. The region’s seven-day rolling average rate has been above 8% since Sept. 25.
Several elected officials including state Rep. John Cabello, state Sen. Dave Syverson, Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana and Loves Park Mayor Greg Jury also attended DeVore’s presentation and encouraged bars and restaurants to defy the state’s order.
At a news conference Monday, Martell asked that area leaders reevaluate their stance and assist the community in helping businesses come into compliance.
“At the press briefing, I reported on 30 establishments that had had complaints reported since Saturday with the start of Executive Order #2020-56 and these complaints would be validated before a notice of non-compliance would be issued,” Martell said in her statement. “I have had no personal interaction with any of the establishments cited in this letter.”
In his letter, DeVore accuses Martell and the health department of intimidation and defamation.
“We would assume you and your agency is fully aware of the devastation being wrought upon people of this state, including but not limited to financial disaster, and health issues, both mental and physical,” DeVore states in his letter. “It seems your department should be focusing its attention on how to address such economic and mental health disasters, rather than pandering to the executive branches overreach based upon nothing more than mere speculation to further devastate small businesses, which are the backbone of the state’s economy.”
Corina Curry: [email protected]; @corinacurry