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State Officials: Mask Mandate Enforcement Necessary To Curb Uptick In COVID-19 Cases

Screenshot from Illinois.gov live-stream
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department Of Public Health, speaks at a press briefing at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago on August 9, 2020.

As the number of COVID-19 cases trends upwards in Illinois, state officials want to see better enforcement of mask-wearing and other public health guidance.

The average daily number of new COVID-19 cases in the state is up 31% compared to two weeks ago. The seven-day positivity rate stands at 4.1%.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, says a new emergency rule — announced Friday — aims to increase compliance with the state’s mask mandate.

She says research shows face coverings reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“Is it 100% effective at stopping the spread? No. But will it help? It absolutely will,” Ezike says. “We have measures that can help us reduce the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, and that’s sure better than doing nothing at all.”

If approved by a panel of legislators this week, the new rule could lead to fines for businesses, schools and child care centers that don’t enforce face coverings or comply with capacity limits.

Governor J.B. Pritzker says a panel of state legislators will meet Tuesday to vote on the rule.

Pritzker says local public health officials have been asking for an enforcement mechanism that prioritizes education and support for businesses over shame and punishment.

“Unfortunately, the way the law is written today, there’s only nothing or the misdemeanor that would result in the potential of removing their license,” Pritzker says. “So what we wanted to do was give something in between, which is why this rule makes so much sense.”

Under the new rule, business entities that don’t follow public health guidance would receive warnings at first. A lack of compliance could result in fines of up to $2,500.

Christine Herman spent nine years studying chemistry before she left the bench to report on issues at the intersection of science and society. She started in radio in 2014 as a journalism graduate student at the University of Illinois and a broadcast intern at Radio Health Journal. Christine has been working at WILL since 2015.