Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine says his office is not “willing or able” to file criminal charges to enforce Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s recent mask mandate.
On Thursday Pritzker announced his latest executive order requiring face coverings indoors for the foreseeable future to combat rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
In a statement Friday, Haine said Pritzker’s executive order is not “criminally enforceable,” meaning people or businesses who defy the order will not be punished in Madison County.
“This executive order — like the other executive order in 2020 — relies on the Emergency Management Agency Act,” Haine said. “It provides for no possibility of criminal enforcement.”
Haine said he isn’t trying to weigh in on masking, but rather letting the people of Madison County know his legal opinion on the order. He issued a similar opinion publicly in December 2020.
“I’m trying to be clear and objective so people have an accurate understanding of the law so there isn’t confusion and miscommunication,” Haine said. “The only reason why I’m making my opinion known is because of the criminal law component. I’m not trying to be a pundit on the issue.”
“I don’t get to make the law, I just enforce it,” he added. “I want people to have a good understanding of what I understand the law to be and in this case, this executive order provides for no punishment.”
Haine said businesses have the right to enforce their own COVID-19 rules and said individuals who refuse to leave businesses could be prosecuted.
“While my office cannot charge any individual with a crime for not following these COVID-19-related state directives, we can prosecute individuals for trespass or disorderly conduct if someone refuses to leave an establishment after being asked by the business owner,” Haine said in a statement.
“Just as individual citizens have rights, businesses also have rights which will be protected. Businesses must be given discretion on how and when to operate in accordance with applicable guidelines and subject to their own risk management.”
Mask mandate starts Monday
The governor’s newest mask mandate will go into effect Monday and applies to everyone over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status.
According to the executive order, masks will be required in indoor public places but can be taken off briefly to eat or drink and in workplaces where workers can stay at least six feet apart.
The order does not require masks outdoors, but state officials are strongly encouraging people to wear a face covering in crowded outdoor settings like festivals or concerts or any activities that require close contact with unvaccinated people.
The executive order also included new requirements for education and healthcare workers to be vaccinated.
Rising cases, hospitalizations
Pritzker said new masking and vaccination rules were needed due to a resurgence of COVID-19 in the southern and east central parts of Illinois.
As of Friday, 78 of Illinois’ counties were at warning levels, due mostly to dwindling ICU bed availability. Madison County
The warning list, which is updated weekly, is based on several indicators that measure the health burden of COVID-19 on Illinois counties.
A county reaches warning status when it hits certain criteria such as ICU bed availability, total hospitalizations due to COVID-19, case clusters, the number of new cases per 100,000 people, the number of COVID-19 tests performed, and COVID deaths.
The state health department reported Region 4 as a whole had less than 22% of its total intensive care unit beds at hospitals available to new patients on Friday.