The Jasper County COVID-19 Advisory Group helped light up the screen last weekend.


The drive-in movie theater opened for a new season last weekend with some support from the Advisory Group that convinced state officials the business could apply social distancing precautions.


“We showed there could be some flexibility in the Governor’s order with the drive-in theater,” said Newton Mayor Mark Bolander, one of 13 members of the Advisory Group that has been meeting by Zoom in recent weeks. “It opened this weekend without a concession stand and some other restrictions, too. But it is opened.”


It seems like a small step but now the organization hopes for a sequel on its success. The Advisory Group is waiting to hear from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office on recommendations for reopening more Jasper County businesses and facilities that could be acceptable to public safety. Rather than defiance of state orders, the Advisory Group is seeking common ground where possible with state officials.


“After the Governor extended the stay-at-home order and then offered his reopening in five phases, we thought it could be done in less time than that. We felt like we put a pretty good plan together. We have submitted it to Springfield, and we’re felt we’d try to get the Governor’s blessing on this,” Bolander explained.


There are many levels of expertise in the Jasper County group, which includes Jasper County Health Department Administrator Deb Riddle, County Board chairman Ron Heltsley, State’s Attorney Chad Miller, Newton Police Chief Mike Swick, Jasper County Emergency Management Agency Director Ed Francis, City EMA liaison Doug Long and several others.


Bolander offered praise to Riddle and her staff for their extensive work over the past month helping battle COVID-19 in the county. All but two of the Jasper County coronavirus infections so far have been in the Newton Care Center. It has infected more than 40 residents and employees there, killing six residents.


The Health Department’s efforts have also been vital to the Advisory Group through contact by Zoom with other county departments and officials, Bolander said. That work helped draft the recommendations for reopening.


For now, the Advisory Group is waiting for communication from Springfield to see if reopening ideas can begin in Jasper County.