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Springfield To Fine Individuals For Not Wearing Masks In Stores

Signs outside a store in downtown Springfield encourage handwashing and the use of face masks.
Mary Hanse
NPR Illinois
Signs outside a store in downtown Springfield encourage handwashing and the use of face masks.

Individuals not wearing a face covering around their nose and mouth in grocery stores, gas stations and other retail businesses in Springfield can now be fined $50, and businesses can get hit with a $250 fine for not requiring customers to comply with the mask mandate.

A subsequent violation for a business would lead to a $500 fine. Face coverings are proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The Springfield City Council approved the ordinance at an emergency meeting Wednesday night. 

Mayor Jim Langfelder said the individual fines should encourage compliance and reduce spread of the virus, possibly avoiding more restrictions on businesses.

“That will save jobs, people from being unemployed, being able to put food on the table, not being able to pay their house or do utility payments,” he said. “And that's really the main driver of tonight's discussion.”

Langfelder proposed the fines as he and other leaders grapple with addressing a local surge in COVID-19 cases. On Wednesday, the Sangamon County Department of Public Health reported 178 new cases over the last two days and two additional deaths. Region 3, which includes the county and west-central Illinois, is under increased mitigation from the state because of the surge in cases. 

But the mayor joined county officials this week in announcing they would defy the governor’s recent order to shutter indoor bar and restaurant service in the region. Instead, they’ll allow the businesses to stay open for at least two more weeks, with limited capacity and more rules on operations.

The individual mask mandate builds on the statewide mask mandate, which has been in place since May, and governor's order that allows cities to fine businesses up to $2,500 for not requiring customers to wear a face covering. Langfelder also signed an executive order in August that fine bars and restaurants for the same offense.

The ordinance also requires businesses to post signs about the mask mandate, which they are already required to do under previous executive order, provide a mask to customers who don't have one and ask anyone who removes their mask to leave. 

Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow said he’s heard from business owners whose employees are yelled at by customers for trying to enforce mask mandates.

“(The ordinance is) about taking some of that responsibility off of businesses and putting it on to individuals and their decisions,” he said.

Winslow said officers will continue to do spot checks and respond to complaints about people not wearing masks at retail businesses and issue fines where necessary.

Illinois Municipal League Executive Director Brad Cole, who attended the meeting, praised the council for its stricter mandate. The league provides a template for individual mask mandate, and similar rules have been adopted in Carbondale.

The mask mandate got overwhelming council support. Nine of the ten council members voted in favor, with Ward 4 Ald. John Fulgenzi, a restaurant owner, voting present.

The mandate applies to anyone over the age of 2. Those who have a documented medical reason for not being able to wear a mask are exempt from the rules and can’t be fined.

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