Pritzker extends mask mandate for another 150 days

Pritzker extends mask mandate for another 150 days

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker continues to run the state’s COVID-19 response by executive mandate, with state lawmakers still silent 10 months into the pandemic.

Expect to be wearing a mask in public until at least June 3 in Illinois.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker extended his COVID-19 mask and social distancing order another 150 days just as it was to expire Jan. 4. The order mandates a mask regardless of where a person is if others are close.

“Any individual who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face covering (a mask or cloth face covering) shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a face covering when in a public place and unable to maintain at least a six-foot social distance,” the rule states. “This requirement applies whether in an indoor space, such as a store, or in an outdoor space.”

Pritzker has yet to say when a ban on indoor dining, bar service and other business restrictions will be eased. Those statewide Tier 3 restrictions were to be evaluated after New Year’s Day. Indoor dining has been closed since Nov. 4.

Springfield and Sangamon County leaders are defying Pritzker by allowing restaurants to reopen at 25% capacity. Ryan Bandy, a business owner and officer with the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, said on WMAY radio that local leaders are best suited to make local decisions.

“We can’t just have this unilateral decision-making done by the governor all the time, this needs to stop,” Bandy said. “We need to get at least the legislature involved in it.”

Pritzker in May was about to lose a fight before the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Administrative Rules when he tried to make businesses criminally responsible for enforcing his mask mandates, with up to a year in jail. He backed off before the JCAR’s vote and in August won their support for a $2,500 fine.

Then in August, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association threatened a lawsuit over Pritzker trying to turn store clerks into law enforcement officers, saddling them with the responsibility of policing customers over the proper use of masks.

“Everyone’s well aware of the condition of retail, Main Street, restaurants, bars, taverns, we’ve now seen in Chicago for the second time businesses having to rebuild, to remodel,” said the association’s president, Rob Karr. “This is a lot of salt in an open wound.”

The statewide rule filed Jan. 4 by Pritzker’s administration was better than the old rule, Karr recently told The Center Square.

“This puts in place that you can hand them something in writing,” Karr said. “So, you could give them a notice that IRMA had produced that said, ‘you know you should be wearing a face mask, we may ask you to leave,’ and that helps the retailer avoid, try to avoid, some of those confrontations.”

The new rule reads: “For retail businesses, reasonable efforts to comply with regard to customers shall be determined based on the totality of the circumstances and include, but are not limited to: posting signage requiring face coverings to be worn on the premises; providing face coverings to customers; giving verbal or written warnings to customers who are not wearing a face covering to inform them of the requirement to wear a face covering when on the premises; requesting verbally or in writing that customers leave the premises if not wearing a face covering; and making available reasonable accommodations for individuals who are not able to medically tolerate a face covering.”

Enforcement is left to local health and law enforcement authorities.

While it makes clear the $2,500 fine can be imposed against a business that ignored a second written warning, it also makes the threat of up to a year in jail before then stating no one, not even a business owner, will face the potential for imprisonment.

“No individual shall be held responsible for compliance with this rule on behalf of a business, service, facility or organization even if the individual is an owner, officer, principal or employee of that business, service, facility or organization,” the rule states.

Pritzker’s new emergency rule also limits public gatherings to fewer than 50 people in a single space, including at schools.

The JCAR meets Jan. 12 to decide whether the rule stands until June 3. The commission has six members from the Illinois House and six from the Illinois Senate. Pritzker could also cancel the order before June 3 if COVID-19 subsides significantly.

Illinois was reporting an 8.5% 7-day COVID-19 positivity rate on Jan. 5 compared to a national rate of 13.6%.

Pritzker has declared a statewide disaster 11 times since COVID-19 hit Illinois in March. The proclamations allow him to issue executive orders, such as the indoor dining ban and mask mandates, for 30 days.

Most states don’t allow emergency powers to last indefinitely. The powers are meant to let a governor quickly address a disaster, but when the emergency becomes a long-term problem the legislature should collect input and debate the long-term solutions.

Pritzker has faced court challenges over the repeated 30-day disaster declarations based on the same event, but those challenges have yet to stop the practice. The Illinois General Assembly could fix the issue by passing legislation that clarifies or limits those powers.

They have remained silent through 11 declarations.

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