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Expanded Mask Rules At Bars And Restaurants, New Limits In Two Suburban Chicago Counties

Gov. JB Pritzker imposed new rules for wearing masks at restaurants and bars.
Gov. JB Pritzker imposed new rules for wearing masks at restaurants and bars.

Beginning Wednesday, restaurant and bar patrons must wear a mask when interacting with servers and bartenders in an effort to stem the recent spread of COVID-19.

Illinois has had a mask mandate since May 1. The new rule specifically states that customers must wear a mask covering their nose and mouth while food is brought to the table, when ordering, and when picking up take-out orders.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, announcing it Tuesday, said his administration worked with the Illinois Restaurant Association to develop it.

“This stuff can linger in the air and the more people you have in a room,” he said at a news conference. “Particularly if you’re eating and drinking where you’re adding to the amount of saliva in their mouth, you’re adding to the viral load in an area so that’s why we’re putting these other mitigations in place.”

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said those who think wearing a face covering is ineffective in stopping the spread of COVID-19 are wrong.

“It doesn't matter what video you saw on the internet or the fake headline you read,” she said. “Please know that face coverings do save lives, but they must be used in conjunction with social distancing, and handwashing.”

The new rule comes as a second region in the state faces tougher restrictions due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Customers will only be able to sit outside at bars and restaurants in Will and Kankakee counties - Region 7 in the governor’s mitigation plan published last month . The region had a positivity rate for COVID-19 tests higher than 8% for three days, triggering new restrictions for two weeks.

Will County Executive Denise Winfrey said she agrees with the stricter rules put in place by the governor and state health department, but realizes some residents may not.

“They don't want to limit the numbers of people in their yards. They don't want to control their interactions with others,” she said. “We also realized that our past behavior is how we got to our present situation.”

In addition to closing indoor seating, bars and restaurants must close at 11 p.m., reservations are required for each party, gatherings are limited to 25 people or 25% capacity, and patrons can’t congregate while waiting for tables or exiting.

But some are criticizing the new rules as partisan after the governor imposed less strict limits on Illinois counties surrounding St. Louis last week, even as their positivity rate climbs.

The seven-county Region 4 triggered more restrictions as its positivity rate climbed above 8% for more than three days last week. Instead of closing indoor seating, Pritzker said his administration worked with local officials to modify the restrictions in his most recent mitigation plan, including limiting indoor seating to no more than six people per table. Those rules are set to be in place for another week.

State Sens. Sue Rezin and John Curran, Republicans who represent parts of Region 7, said the modifications showed partisanship, calling it a “double standard.”

“The same rules should apply to all regions, and they should be based on science, not politics,” they said in a statement posted to Facebook .

When questioned about the discrepancy Tuesday, Pritzker said he thought the changes were not a good idea in the end and that the region will likely face similar restrictions next week.

“We felt like because (Metro East officials) had been in communication with folks in St. Louis, and had seen some of the challenges of being right on the border, that maybe that was a good idea to listen to them and follow their suggestion,” he said. “I have to say that has not worked.”

As of Saturday, the average positivity rate for Region 4 was 9.8%, up from 8.5% last week.

In both regions, bar and restaurant patrons will not be allowed to congregate indoors, and reservations will be required. Party buses are will not be able to operate, and gaming parlors and casinos are limited to 25% capacity.

Copyright 2020 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Mary is a reporter at NPR Illinois and graduated from the Public Affairs Reporting program atUISand received her BA in International Studies from American University. Previously Mary worked as a planning consultant and reported for the State Journal-Register where she covered city government.