CHICAGO (WLS) -- Governor JB Pritzker announced new COVID-19 guidelines Friday for Illinois businesses, schools and child care establishments for face masks and gathering size.
The announcement comes as the state reported 2,084 new coronavirus cases, the highest number of cases since May 24, as well as 21 additional deaths. The statewide positivity rate for the period of July 31-August 6 has also reached 4.1%.
The governor's office announced the Illinois Department of Public Health will file for emergency rules for business, schools and child care establishments, which aims to provide local law enforcement with more flexibility to enforce public health guidelines. The new initiative will not only help protect Illinois communities but also frontline workers in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The new efforts focus on the use of face coverings and the size of gatherings throughout the state.
The measures include issuing penalties for failure to follow the guidelines. Governor Pritzker said fines will not be issued to individuals and only the businesses, schools and child care centers that violate the rules.
Fines will only be issued after "multiple opportunities" for compliance.
The process will include a written warning encouraging voluntary compliance. If guidelines are still not being followed, violators will be given an order to have some or all patrons leave as needed to comply.
"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 restaurant industry, one of the hardest hit, said they support the governor's new rule.
"I'm in favor of anything that's gonna help us get past this," said John Aldape with The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group.
The FIFTY/50 restaurant group owns several Roots Pizza Restaurants. And while most patrons comply with the mask order, not all do.
"There has been a challenge with some individuals not wanting to follow those guidelines, so I think enforcing this throughout the state will actually be helpful for us," Aldape said.
Illinois retailers said they are outraged over the new emergency rule. They said they do not believe businesses should be held accountable for patrons who refuse to comply.
"Either the administration supports the businesses and their employees who have been on the frontline of this pandemic and focus their enforcement efforts on individuals who the governor has complained about for weeks," said Rob Karr, Illinois Retail Merchants Association CEO.
If businesses still do not comply, they then would be subject to a class A misdemeanor, with a fine ranging from $75-$2,500.
"These rules are a common-sense way to enforce mask requirements without jumping immediately to the extremely tough consequences that exist on the books today," Pritzker said.
Governor Pritzker also signed SB471, which he said gives protections for frontline workers and expands disability leave.
"As I've visited with and listened to mayors and health departments all across our state, it's clear there is still an even greater need to get people to wear masks - especially to protect frontline workers, whether they're at the front of a store asking you to put on your mask or whether they're responding to 911 calls to save those in distress," Pritzker said. "These rules, which provide multiple opportunities for compliance before any penalty is issued, are a commonsense way to enforce public health guidelines. Illinois has made substantial progress in our fight against COVID-19 because the vast majority of communities and business owners have done the right thing. These rules will help ensure that the minority of people who refuse to act responsibly won't take our state backward."
The governor said this new action gives local authorities better enforcement options, particularly when municipalities and counties haven't put their own rules on-the-books.
"There are some causes that are fundamentally right and those causes draw people together from all walks of life and keeping our people healthy and safe is one of those causes.'
Joining the governor's latest social distancing pitch were state legislators and industry leaders including Sam Toia from the Illinois Restaurant Association.
"It's simple: If you choose not to comply adhere to public safety guidelines or house rules at businesses, your favorite restaurants, shops, bars, salons, hardware stores and more will pay the price," Toia said. "Help us so we can serve you."
Governor Pritzker had been hinting at the possibility of new guidelines in recent days as the state has seen a growing number of cases.
he Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) issued a statement opposing the governor's actions.
"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," said Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
All of this comes as the state reports a wider spread of the coronavirus in downstate Illinois, though officials say 20-29-year-olds are the only age group in which virus is building momentum.
The governor has stressed that just because young people may not be as likely to die, they can still have lingering health effects and need to take the virus seriously.
There are 11 health regions in Illinois. Two weeks ago the positivity rate in 10 out of 11 was less than 5%. Now the governor says only four regions are below that key metric. Local action is key to keeping infections at bay. And people have to understand the state's fate is in their hands, Pritzker said.
On Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that the state's total confirmed COVID-19 cases have reached 190,508 including 7,613 deaths.
As of Thursday night, 1,486 patients were hospitalized in Illinois with COVID-19, with 333 patients in the ICU and 125 patients on ventilators.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force is also warning Chicago and nine other areas around the country to "get on top" of their COVID-19 increases.
The Center for Public Integrity obtained the audio from a private call between Doctor Deborah Birx and state and local officials.
"We are seeing a slow uptick in test positivity in cases in places like Chicago, Boston and Detroit and DC," Dr. Birx said.
Officials in Lake and McHenry counties are scheduled to hold a live "Q and A" session on Facebook Friday amid a rise in COVID-19 cases.
The positivity rate in Region 9 is now at 4.9%, health officials say.
Some of those cases are linked to the Texas Roadhouse Restaurant in Crystal Lake.
The eatery shut down after at least three employees and one customer tested positive for the virus.
The McHenry County Health Department says anyone who worked or visited that Texas Roadhouse between July 19 and August 4 should get tested for COVID-19.
Health officials are also saying renewed restrictions could be enforced if the positivity rate reaches 8%.