Pritzker defends proposed changes to mask rules as state sees 1,382 new COVID-19 cases, 8 more deaths

A bipartisan committee still needs to approve Pritzker’s new rules, up for consideration Tuesday in Springfield.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker said having rules requiring masks and proper social distancing makes “common sense.”

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Sunday defended his proposed new rules for “modest” changes to the way the current statewide mask mandate is enforced, saying politicians shouldn’t use a public health crisis for political gain.

The new emergency rules, which were filed Friday by the Illinois Department of Public Health, offer local officials more leeway to give out warnings before fining businesses that don’t follow the state’s public masking and social distancing guidelines.

Pritzker, who was joined Sunday by a group of doctors and public health officials who shared support for his proposed new emergency rules, said he believes the rules are “fair.”

“Many, many businesses are doing the right thing, but it’s not fair to those businesses when their competitors are not doing the right thing,” Pritzker said. “And so, we think it’s fair to hold everybody accountable, to hold everybody to the same standard and we’re doing it in a way that should allow businesses to get it right.”

Pritzker said having rules requiring masks and proper social distancing makes “common sense.” But his new rule changes were met with some opposition.

The Illinois Retail Association on Friday issued a statement, saying Pritzker should focus on the customers who refuse to wear a mask rather than “demonize innocent businesses.” In the political realm, Illinois House Republican leader Jim Durkin on Friday called on Pritzker to “abandon his mask rule” and work with legislature on the issue.

On Sunday, Pritzker said a public health crisis shouldn’t be politicized.

“The worst possible outcome for public health right now is to turn this into political football,” he said. “There’s an unfortunate tendency in our politics these days to dig in your heels in a debate — but our actions in a public health crisis should be inspired not by elected officials, but by the scientists and doctors and researchers who know this stuff firsthand.”

Pritzker issued a statewide masking mandate May 1. Some of Illinois’ bordering states have been slow to follow with Indiana waiting until July and Wisconsin August. Pritzker said he’s discussed the importance in having a regional decline in new infections with governors from neighboring states, and he blamed President Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic for putting states in this position.

“If we had responsible leadership in the White House, if we had leadership that cared about having a national strategy, we would have dealt with this months ago,” said Pritzker, who said last month Illinoisans could be wearing masks into 2021. “We should have a national mask mandate. Instead, we have state-by-state patchwork ... We were one of the earliest states to put one, and we’re trying to enforce it with this rule.” 

The bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules still needs to approve Pritzker’s new rules, which will be up for consideration Tuesday in Springfield.

Pritzker’s latest plea comes as Illinois is at a “critical moment in our pandemic response.”

State health officials on Sunday announce 1,382 new COVID-19 infections and eight new coronavirus-related deaths.

The new cases were detected among the latest batch of 41,354 tests processed in the last day, which lowered the state’s seven-day positivity rate to 4.1% — a hair lower from Saturday when it clocked in at 4.2%.

In total, 7,636 people in Illinois have died among at least 194,080 who have tested positive for the virus since March. More than 3 million tests have been processed.

As of Saturday night, 322 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 322 in intensive care units and 114 on ventilators.

With numbers continuing to rise, public health officials and doctors joined Pritzker in stressing the importance of the general public wearing masks and following proper social distancing to limit community transmission of the coronavirus.

University of Chicago epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon said she understands that most people have what she called “COVID fatigue.”

“We’re sick of this pandemic and we’re sick of things being different,” she said. “Everyone of us is looking for any single, any little green light that we can go back to doing something the normal way.”

But Landon said that won’t be possible unless the mask mandate is more strictly enforced.

“Mask and [proper social] distance are so important to keeping us out of lockdown that we have got to enforce them everywhere,” Landon said. “Being clear about our expectations and being clear about our expectations and holding people accountable to the rules is fair and it’ll protect both businesses and individuals.” 

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