Chicago Sun-Times - - CHICAGO SUN TIMES - BY STE­FANO ES­POS­ITO, STAFF RE­PORTER ses­pos­ito@sun­times.com | @sle­spos­ito

As new COVID cases top 2,000, Pritzker plan to give au­thor­i­ties more op­tions to en­force face-cov­er­ing man­date out­rages re­tail­ers

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.

Karr said the rules should fo­cus on “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 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.

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.

JUSTIN L. FOWLER/THE STATE JOUR­NAL-REG­IS­TER VIA AP Gov. J.B. Pritzker mo­tions that peo­ple some­times for­get to wear their mask even when they have it in their pocket as he un­veiled a mask aware­ness cam­paign on Mon­day.

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