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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Announces New Mask Enforcement Rule To Limit COVID Spread

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday his office would file an emergency rule that would give local authorities power to enforce mask rules.

As a resurgence of coronavirus slams southern Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday his office will file an emergency rule that would allow local authorities to enforce mask requirements to prevent the spread of the disease.

The rule does not apply to any individual private citizen who doesn’t comply with a mask mandate, but instead allows authorities to enforce mask requirements at schools, businesses and child-care facilities, the governor said.

The rule provides three steps for enforcement:

  1. Businesses will be given a warning in the form of written notice and encouraged to voluntarily comply with public health guidance.
  2. Businesses that do not voluntarily comply will be given an order to have some or all of their patrons leave the premises as needed to comply with public health guidance and reduce risks.
  3. If the business continues to refuse to comply, the business can receive a Class A misdemeanor and be subject to a fine ranging from $75-$2,500.

The scaled penalties are less harmful than current punishments in place, such as revoking a business license, Pritzker said.

The administration’s rule will go to the committee that regulates them for consideration as soon as Tuesday. State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, is a member of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. He expressed skepticism of the rule.

“This needs to be done via legislative action, not through the administrative rulemaking process,” Schimpf said. “This needs to be taken up by the legislature.”

Schimpf was one of the multiple Republicans who called for another special session of lawmakers to address the coronavirus pandemic.

“People will be a lot more willing to believe this is a crisis if the governor acts like it’s a crisis,” Schimpf said.

Private citizens in Illinois are still required to wear masks, though the new rule does not apply to them. The governor’s office announced the state’s first mask mandate on May 1.

“There are some causes that are fundamentally right,” Pritzker said at a news conference Friday morning in Chicago. “Keeping our people healthy and safe is one of those causes.”

The Metro East region reported a total of 191 new positive tests on Thursday, the highest number since the pandemic began. The region also counted three deaths.

Pritzker has repeatedly called on local elected officials to stem the resurgence, but they’ve hesitated to crack down on bars, restaurants and large gatherings where the disease has spread most rapidly in recent weeks.

The governor has said the state will force restrictions on any region that exceeds an 8% positivity rate, or the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive, for three consecutive days. The metro-east region has flirted with that number in recent weeks, though the percentage dropped slightly this week.

Restrictions could include reduced hours and capacity limits for restaurants, bars and personal care facilities such as salons and barbershops.

Illinois' public health agency defines the Metro East region as St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, Clinton, Bond and Washington counties.

Illinois public health officials announced 1,759 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois on Thursday, including 30 additional deaths, bringing the total to 186,471 cases and 7,573 deaths since the pandemic began.

Kelsey Landis is an Illinois state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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