CHICAGO (CBS) — Facing a rise in new COVID-19 cases in Illinois over the last several weeks, Gov. JB Pritzker is issuing new rules allowing local authorities to fine businesses, schools, and child care facilities that repeatedly fail to enforce the statewide mask mandate and social distancing requirements.
“This is a make or break moment for the state of Illinois for making sure that people are doing everything they can to mitigate, to reduce the spread,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said the new emergency rule would set up a three-step enforcement process.
First, businesses will be educated about the need to comply with the requirement for people to wear a mask in public whenever they can’t maintain at least six feet of distance from others. Second, businesses that do not comply will be given written warnings, and ordered to have some or all of their customers leave the premises as needed to comply with public health guidelines. Finally, businesses that repeatedly violate public health requirements will be subject to a Class A misdemeanor, subject to a fine of $75 to $2,500.
The governor’s announcement came just hours before the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 2,084 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the first time Illinois has reported more than 2,000 daily cases since May 24. The seven-day average statewide positivity rate in Illinois has been slowly rising over the past several weeks, from 2.5% in early July to 4.1% as of Friday.
“These rules will help ensure that the minority of people who refuse to act responsibly won’t take our state backward,” Pritzker said.
The governor said, without the new rule, local authorities were left with only one option to punish businesses that violate masking and social distancing requirements: revoking their licenses.
“This new rule provides multiple opportunities for compliance before any penalty is issued, and by focusing on targeted fines as part of a misdemeanor, these rules for scaled penalties that are significantly less harmful to businesses than those currently available for enforcement are the right direction,” he said. “This is one way for us to make sure that businesses that have been scofflaws on this subject know that there is a real penalty at the end of the line here.”
Pritzker said the new rules would not lead to fines for individuals who violate the mask requirement.
“We wanted not to go after individuals, as best we can,” he said. “I’ve said all along, I do not want for police to be arresting people, or penalizing individuals. On the other hand, I’ve asked local authorities, including police, including local health authorities, to remind people as frequently as they possibly can that they need to follow this mask mandate.”
The emergency rules must be approved by the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which meets next week.
The governor said he was disappointed the state legislature didn’t approve legislation that would have put similar rules into place during its shortened session in May, but said “now is the time.”
There is confusion over exactly who is responsible for enforcement of the new rules, and while some businesses consider these positive measures, others are calling them a “slap in the face” to business owners.
Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia was among those embracing the new rules, speaking at the governor’s announcement on Friday. Toia said if people don’t follow the state’s public health guidelines, their favorite businesses will pay the price.
“Extra safety precautions and face coverings are necessary for everyone during this critical time. If we want to stay on a steady path, and keep our progress with reopening, it’s up to every individual to work collectively towards a common goal. It’s not one group, one industry, one region. We all need to be rowing the same way,” he said.
Toia said it would be “catastrophic” if the state had to shut down businesses again due to another spike in COVID-19 cases.
“It would be the death of the hospitality industry here in the state of Illinois. We all need to listen to the advice of the scientists and doctors to follow the rules, be smart, and keep Illinois open,” he added.
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association called the new rule “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.”
“If the goal is to put public health above politics, the administration will amend the rule to focus enforcement efforts on individuals who are not complying instead of punishing and attempting to demonize innocent businesses,” IRMA president and CEO Rob Karr said in a statement. “State officials have for months complained about improper behavior by individuals at parties, parks, and other public places, yet they are specifically exempting individuals from enforcement. The Governor is right – this is a make or break moment for the state. Either the Administration will support the businesses who have been on the front line of this pandemic and focus efforts on the individuals who are not complying with the face covering mandate, or they risk squandering this moment in time.”
Exactly who people are supposed to call about violations is also unclear. Pritizker said health departments and police can hold businesses accountable, but the Kane County Sheriff, for instance, said there’s no statute on the books making this a police matter.
A spokeswoman for the governor said anyone can call either police or their local health department if they spot violations.
Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin is pushing back, calling for an emergency special session in part to discuss these rules.