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Crystal Lake Health Foods pleads guilty to COVID-19 masking violations for $75 fine

Crystal Lake Health Food Store will be ordered to pay a $75 fine plus court fees after it became the second McHenry County business to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge on Thursday for violating the state’s COVID-19 rules on the use of face masks.

The health food store was the first local business to be charged for violating COVID-19 rules when it was issued a notice to appear in court in December and remains one of four businesses to have made it this far in the McHenry County Department of Health’s enforcement process.

Crystal Lake Health Foods made multiple requests for more time before entering their guilty plea after the owner of the store died, the Northwest Herald has reported. Ultimately, the store pled guilty at their court appearance Thursday afternoon through an affidavit signed by its new owner who lives out of state, said Norm Vinton, Civil Division Chief for the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The management of Crystal Lake Health Foods declined to comment on the case after being contacted Thursday afternoon.

“We welcome all in our store and we are especially mindful of personal and medical freedoms,” the store’s manager Dave Childress said in a Dec. 16 statement. “We allow our employees and customers to make their own decisions regarding health.”

The other three businesses that have been charged with masking or social distancing violations through the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office are Creekside Tap, an Algonquin bar; Nedza’s Little Store, a food and liquor store in McHenry; and Xtreme Wheels, a roller rink in Crystal Lake, according to records obtained by the Northwest Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Creekside Tap became the first business to plead guilty to the charges on Jan. 27 and was ordered to pay a $75 fine plus court fees, Vinton said.

Creekside Tap violated masking and social distancing rules, as well as the ban on indoor dining that came with the state’s tiered mitigation measures, according to health department records obtained by the Northwest Herald. Reports documented customers inside the bar who were allowed to “congregate closely” even after initial warnings from the health department.

Some staff, including one of Creekside Tap’s bartenders, failed to wear masks during one visit and officials observed customers not wearing masks even when they were not eating or drinking, according to the documents. They were visited by the health department three times in December before a notice to appear in court was issued Dec. 22.

“We have been, and will continue to provide the safest environment that we can,” the bar’s owner, Valerie Wood-Hellyer, said in a written statement Friday. “Our bartenders are diligent in sanitizing all surfaces continually. Our customers understand the need for face coverings and are complying. And we are very grateful for their understanding and cooperation.”

Creekside Tap is seen on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 in Algonquin.

Creekside Tap is seen on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 in Algonquin. (Matthew Apgar/)

Thus far, the court has given the lowest end of the range of possible fines for these kinds of violations, which can range up to $2,500, according to Gov. JB Pritzker’s enforcement guidelines.

The plea deals for Nedza’s and Xtreme Wheels will likely be the same as what Crystal Lake Health Foods and Creekside Tap received, Vinton said.

Nedza’s Little Store also requested more time to enter their plea and is scheduled to appear in court Feb. 18, according to public court records. Xtreme Wheels will appear in court to enter their plea March 11.

The health department’s investigation into Nedza’s Little Store began over the summer when it responded to a masking complaint and saw staff were not wearing masks and, instead, remained behind a large plexiglass barrier that had been installed between cashiers and customers, according to documents obtained by the Northwest Herald.

The owner of Nezda’s Little Store could not be reached for comment Friday.

After the governor’s rules on masking were promulgated into law in August, the health department responded to another complaint in December and informed the store’s manager that they needed to wear masks despite the installation of the plexiglass barrier as they were still coming within 6 feet of customers outside of the barrier in some interactions.

The store failed to come into compliance after multiple visits from the health department resulting in the issuance of an order to disperse and, ultimately, a notice to appear in court, which was issued Jan. 7, according to the documents.

The health department’s interactions with Xtreme Wheels in Crystal Lake spanned across November, December and January, and culminated in a notice to appear issued Jan. 20, according to the business’ case file.

The management of Xtreme Wheels declined to comment Friday.

Complaints against Xtreme Wheels centered around the facility failing to require skaters to wear masks and remain socially distanced while skating.

In the health department’s reports, the owner also admitted to violating the governor’s tiered mitigation measures, which banned indoor sports and dining effective Nov. 20. Since the facility’s food court remained open, they effectively fell into both categories.

Health department personnel visited the business a total of five times following complaints. The last visit to the store on Jan. 20 was requested by the Crystal Lake Police Department, and the health department observed about 75 to 80 people in the main facility, 90% of whom were not wearing masks or socially distancing, according to the documents.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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