CHICAGO (CBS) — With a ban on indoor dining and bar service and other tougher COVID-19 restrictions in place or on the horizon for eight of 11 regions in Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker and Illinois State Police on Wednesday warned of increased efforts to enforce the rules.
Gov. JB Pritzker on Wednesday announced Region 9 (Lake and McHenry counties) would be the latest area of the state to face enhanced virus mitigations, starting Saturday; including halting indoor service at bars and restaurants; lower limits on gathering sizes; shutting down party buses; and requiring bars, restaurants, and casinos to close at 11 p.m.
The governor said the average positivity rate in Region 9 has surpassed 8% for three days in a row, triggering the state’s tougher restrictions.
Eight of the state’s 11 regions are either currently under enhanced mitigations, or will be by Saturday, including: Chicago, suburban Cook County, Will and Kankakee counties, Lake and McHenry counties, DuPage and Kane counties, southern Illinois, northwestern Illinois, and the Metro East area near St. Louis.
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The governor also said Region 3 in west-central Illinois could see added restrictions as soon as Sunday, and Region 6 in east-central Illinois could be under extra mitigations by Monday.
The governor acknowledged many small businesses won’t be able to survive the pandemic without financial support, and he said Congress and President Donald Trump need to step up with another stimulus plan.
“I know this virus is very hard on everyone. The damage COVID-19 is doing to people’s lives and livelihoods, and for many people the fight has gotten harder as the months have passed,” Pritzker said. “Despite what the stock market looks like the real economy for real people has been brutalized by this virus, and the Republican-controlled United States Senate has refused time and time again to give workers and those unable to work, and local governments and small businesses the kind of support that they need.”
The governor said he is aware some business owners have been defying the new restrictions in place in their regions of the state, and he said Illinois State Police are stepping up enforcement of the rules, because those businesses are putting their customers and employees in danger.
“Sometimes educating people isn’t enough to get them to do the right thing,” he said.
Pritzker said Illinois State Police would be stepping up random checks of businesses to identify those that are not following the rules.
The governor has warned businesses that don’t follow the state’s restrictions could face the loss of their alcohol or gaming licenses.
Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said the governor’s mitigation orders provide for an incremental enforcement process for scofflaws. Businesses defying the rules are first issued a verbal warning, and then a written warning. If that’s not enough, the state can issue a written order to comply with the rules, and then issue a misdemeanor citation to the business as a last resort.
Kelly said no one has been or will be arrested for violating the restrictions on businesses. To date, Kelly said citations have been issued in five counties.
“Compliance is always the goal; no more, no less,” he said.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike also said if businesses don’t comply with the state’s mask requirement, they’ll also be subject to penalties.
“My hope is that enforcement is not needed because people will know that wearing a mask is the smart thing to do, it’s the responsible thing to do, and that it will save lives. People talk about a mask mandate infringing on their rights, but I have to ask do you have the right to put the health of others at risk? You don’t have the right to spread a potentially deadly virus simply because you don’t want to wear a face covering,” she said.“Like it or not, we are all tied together, we are in this together, and we get through it or not together. We will get through this, so let’s work together now.”
Pritzker said local officials also have a responsibility to enforce the state’s virus restrictions, noting some local sheriffs and other elected officials have refused to enforce regional bans on indoor dining and bar service.
“Local officials have a responsibility in this work as well. They are obligated to take action to keep their communities safe, and to carry out the laws and regulations that are on the books,” Pritzker said. “When state and national public health experts and their own local public health departments tell them things in their city, their town, and their county are getting bad – that more people will get sick and die if they don’t take action – their job as a local elected or appointed leader is to lead, no matter how loudly a minority of people may criticize them.”
The governor said the regional COVID restrictions the state has announced are important to helping bring down infection rates, and said if the state can’t bring down the number of new cases, not only will the economy continue to suffer, but more people will end up in the hospital, and die or suffer long-term health consequences.