Illinois’ new COVID-19 cases top 2,000 — but are Pritzker’s proposed ‘common sense’ masking rules really ‘a slap in the face?’

Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a statewide masking mandate May 1, but the new rules would give local health and police departments more options — including fines up to $2,500 — to enforce it, without revoking a business’ license.

SHARE Illinois’ new COVID-19 cases top 2,000 — but are Pritzker’s proposed ‘common sense’ masking rules really ‘a slap in the face?’
Gov. J.B. Pritzker claps during a July 31 news conference in Little Village.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker claps during a July 31 news conference in Little Village. File photo.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

In an effort to slow the rise in Illinois coronavirus cases, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday announced a new set of proposed rules that would offer local officials more leeway to mete out warnings and reprimands — before resorting to fines — for businesses that run afoul of the state’s public masking and social distancing guidelines.

Pritzker issued a statewide masking mandate May 1, but the new rules would give local health and police departments more options to enforce it without revoking a business’ license.

And as the statewide COVID-19 rebound continued with the latest 2,084 new cases confirmed by the Illinois Department of Public Health — the first time the state has topped 2,000 cases in a day since May 24 — Pritzker said his rules “will help ensure that the minority of people who refuse to act responsibly won’t take our state backward.”

The governor pitched the new measures as “common sense” steps to protect the state, but one leading business group blasted them as “a slap in the face” to the state’s struggling retailers.

Under the rules — which don’t apply to individuals — businesses would be given a written notice if they’re not complying with state guidelines.

If they don’t shape up, an order would be issued “to have some or all of their patrons leave the premises as needed to comply with public health guidance and reduce risks,” according to Pritzker’s office.

And if they’re still not complying, a business could face a misdemeanor charge or fines ranging from $75 to $100.

“This is one way for us to make sure that businesses that have been scofflaws on this subject [to] know that there is a real penalty at the end of the line here,” Pritzker said.

The proposal was met with swift condemnation from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

“This proposed rule lacks common sense and is a slap in the face to the thousands of retailers who have sacrificed so much during this pandemic while actively supporting ever-changing health and safety guidelines adopted by the state. Indeed, many of the guidelines ultimately adopted by the state were modeled by retailers well before they were implemented by the state,”Rob Karr, president and CEO of the association, in a statement.

Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, speaks at a February 2019 news conference in Springfield.

Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, speaks at a February 2019 news conference in Springfield.

AP

Karr said the rules should focus “individuals who are not complying instead of punishing and attempting to demonize innocent businesses.”

Pritzker’s proposed rules still need to be approved by the bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. They’re up for consideration Tuesday in Springfield.

“I can’t tell you the political breakdown of how people will come down on whether we should wear masks or not, but I am confident that that a majority of people in the state of Illinois, a vast majority, want us to have enforcement mechanisms and want us to make sure that people are wearing face coverings,” Pritzker said.

The Democratic governor had previously said he didn’t want to take a heavy-handed approach with enforcement of masking guidelines. More stringent masking ideas were floated back in May and met with strong resistance by pro-business groups.

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Pritzker’s proposal came as the state announced its largest new caseload in more than 10 weeks. Public health officials also announced 21 additional deaths attributed to COVID-19.

The 2,084 cases were confirmed among 46,869 tests, raising the state’s positivity rate over the last week to 4.1%.

More than 11,000 people have tested positive during the first week of August alone, which is almost half the total number of people who tested positive in all of June. The state is averaging 1,667 new cases per day over the last week.

The Public Health Department on Friday also updated its list of “warning level counties,” where outbreaks have been tied to risky behavior.

The 13 “warning level” counties are spread from one end of Illinois to the other: Winnebago along the Wisconsin border; Grundy and Iroquois just south of the Chicago metro area; Tazewell, Cass and Coles in central Illinois and Jackson, Monroe, Perry, Saline, St. Clair, Union, Williamson in southern Illinois.

Each “saw cases or outbreaks associated with businesses, long-term care facilities, large social gatherings, and out of state travel,” officials said. That includes students returning to universities, who aren’t wearing face coverings or social distancing.

A total of 7,613 people have died among 190,508 who have tested positive for the virus in Illinois since March. Nearly 3 million tests have been administered.

As of Thursday night, 1,486 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 333 in intensive care units and 125 on ventilators.

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