New mitigations to take effect Wednesday in Will, Kankakee counties
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker has ordered a stricter statewide mask mandate covering bars and restaurants in Illinois as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.
Effective Wednesday, Aug. 26, all bar and restaurant patrons will be required to wear face coverings when interacting with wait staff or other employees. Masks will also be required when food or beverages are being brought to the patron’s table, when placing orders and when picking up carry-out orders.
“Illinois has had a mask mandate since May 1 this year, and in most establishments people are adhering to it,” Pritzker said during a COVID-19 briefing in Joliet Tuesday. “But it’s important that we treat hospitality employees just as you would in any retail store or establishment. This new requirement asks a little bit more of our residents dining out in order to protect their health and safety and that of our front-line hospitality workers.”
Pritzker was in Joliet Tuesday to discuss new restrictions being put in place in Will and Kankakee counties, which make up Region 7 in the state’s COVID-19 response plan. As of Saturday, Aug. 22, that region had seen the positivity rate rise for seven of the past 10 days and four consecutive days of positivity rates at or above 8 percent.
Region 7 is the second of the state’s 11 regions to have mitigation measures put back in place since the state entered Phase 4 of its reopening plan. Last week saw restrictions being reimposed in Region 4, which includes the Metro East area on the Illinois side of the St. Louis metropolitan area.
But the new restrictions in Region 7, which take effect Wednesday, are stricter than those imposed in Region 4, where bars and restaurants are still allowed to stay open for indoor dining until 11 p.m. In Region 7, bars and restaurants are being ordered closed to all indoor dining for at least the next two weeks.
Other restrictions in Region 7 that are similar to those in Region 4 include the removal of bar stools from bars to prevent close gatherings. Outdoor dining and bar service will be allowed but limited to table seating. Other mitigation requirements must also be met, such as mandates that patrons remain seated and groups of any size have reservations.
In addition, all bars, restaurants, gaming facilities and casinos must close by 11 p.m. Party buses will be closed and indoor gatherings will be limited to 25 individuals or 25 percent of a room’s capacity, whichever is less.
“None of these rules are intended to punish or irritate anyone,” Pritzker said. “They are imposed with a sincere desire to keep the people of Will and Kankakee counties safe and healthy.”
Those rules will remain in place for at least two weeks, at which point they may be lifted if the region’s positivity rate falls to 6.5 percent or less over a 14-day period. If the positivity rate hovers between 6.5 and 8 percent, the Department of Health will review the situation to determine whether more stringent restrictions should be imposed. If the positivity rate remains at 8 percent or higher, more restrictions will be imposed.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, as of Saturday, the seven-day rolling average positivity rate in Region 7 was 8.4 percent. In Region 4, it was 9.8 percent.
But the new Region 7 rules infuriated Republican state Sens. Sue Rezin and John Curran, whose districts include portions of Will and Kankakee counties. They accused the governor of caving to pressure from Democrats by allowing looser restrictions in Metro East.
“Why the double standard? Because Democrat elected officials from that region pressured the Governor to change this stance,” the two senators said in a joint statement. “Backroom political deals should not be how public health decisions are made. The same rules should apply to all regions, and they should be based on science, not politics.”
During his briefing Tuesday, Pritzker conceded that it was “a mistake” not to impose stricter measures in the Metro East region, saying, “I will readily admit that that was not a good idea, and it appears now that we want to put those mitigations in place exactly as we had originally intended.”
Pritzker said that the Metro East area is on a trajectory to have stricter mitigation measures put in place when the initial 14-day period expires on Sept. 2. According to a report in the Belleville News-Democrat, however, the administration had initially sought to impose those restrictions immediately, but backed off of that idea amid pressure from Democratic lawmakers and local officials from that area.
IDPH reported Tuesday that 1,680 new cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed over the previous 24 hours out of 40,859 tests performed. That made for a single-day positivity rate of 4.1 percent statewide. It also reported 29 additional deaths. The rolling seven-day statewide average positivity rate also stood at 4.1 percent, decrease of one-tenth of a percent from the day prior.
Those new cases and fatalities bring the statewide totals to 223,470 cases, including 7,917 deaths since the pandemic first struck Illinois.
As of Monday night, 1,549 Illinoisans were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 345 in intensive care units and 135 of those patients on ventilators.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.