Pritzker wins mask face-off: Enforcement rule for businesses survives challenge as state reports 1,549 more COVID-19 cases

A vote to nix Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s expanded masking enforcement rules fell short in Springfield. The governor says the rules help the state “make substantial progress in our fight against COVID-19.”

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s expanded masking enforcement rules for businesses survived a challenge in Springfield on Tuesday as health officials announced another 1,549 people have tested positive for COVID-19 across Illinois.

The new rules announced by the Democratic governor’s office last week give local authorities leeway to fine businesses up to $2,500, or hit them with a misdemeanor charge, if they don’t enforce Pritzker’s statewide face covering mandate or social distancing guidelines.

Six state lawmakers on the bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted to suspend the rules they complain offer “extraordinary discretion,” two votes shy of wiping Pritzker’s rules off the books.

The governor said his edict will “provide multiple opportunities for compliance before any penalty is issued and will help ensure that the minority of people who refuse to act responsibly won’t take our state backward.

“These rules will ensure that there is a commonsense way to enforce public health guidelines with an emphasis on education first so that Illinois can continue to make substantial progress in our fight against COVID-19,” Pritzker said in a statement.

But the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which called Pritzker’s rules a “slap in the face” when they were announced last week, called it “an injustice to retailers large and small.”

“While the Administration preaches the importance of individuals wearing face coverings, they are clearly not interested in taking responsibility for their own orders,” merchants association president Rob Karr said in a statement. “Instead, they are exporting their enforcement responsibilities to others and playing politics with the pandemic.”

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, a Republican from downstate Waterloo, argued the matter should have been brought to the full General Assembly, saying “this administrative rule is not going to make people more likely to wear a mask.

“What is going to make people more likely to wear a mask is if the governor says, ‘You know what, this really is an emergency. This is something that is appropriate for a special session [of the Legislature].’ And then if you have a mask mandate that is put in place, subject to the legislative process that has the full support of the rule of law — then I believe people will take this much more seriously,” Schimpf said.

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, center, asks a question during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules in Springfield on Tuesday.

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, center, asks a question during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules in Springfield on Tuesday.

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But Ann Spillane, general counsel for Pritzker’s office, said the governor’s approach is justified with the state in the middle of an emergency.

“As we are now several months into COVID-19, and we see unfortunately that our current measures are not sufficiently continuing to bend the curve, but we are seeing an uptick in numbers — that is very worrisome,” Spillane said.

That uptick includes three straight weeks with four-digit caseloads, with the latest 1,549 positive COVID-19 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

That’s slightly below the state’s average of about 1,658 new cases per day over the last two weeks — which have included some of Illinois’ highest counts since the first peak of the pandemic in mid-May — but still almost double the daily average on July 11.

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Nearly 197,000 people have tested positive for the virus in Illinois over the last five months, with the state on pace to eclipse the 200,000-case mark by the end of the week.

The new cases were confirmed among 41,362 tests, keeping the statewide seven-day positivity rate at 4.1%.

Health officials also announced the virus has killed another 20 residents, raising the statewide death toll to 7,657. Experts expect fatality counts to increase in the weeks ahead.

As of Monday night, 1,459 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 336 in intensive care units and 127 on ventilators.

Additionally, Chicago public health officials on Tuesday updated the city’s travel quarantine order list to remove Iowa, Kansas and Utah.

Travelers are still required to self-isolate for two weeks if they arrive in Chicago from 20 other states considered hot spots, including Wisconsin and Missouri.

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