08122020 loca covid2

A masked walker at the Alma Mater on Ui campus in Champaign on Monday, August 10, 2020.

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CHAMPAIGN — Still refusing to wear a face mask in public places?

You could be subject to enforcement action and potentially fined after a new Champaign-Urbana Public Health District ordinance takes effect Aug. 24.

In a special meeting Friday, the health district’s board — made up of the supervisors of City of Champaign and Cunningham townships, which it covers, and the Champaign County Board chair — unanimously approved an ordinance to enforce the mandatory use of face masks and size limits on gatherings within the district’s boundaries.

The board also moved up the date the ordinance takes effect, which was previously expected to be Aug. 28.

The ordinance won’t just potentially penalize businesses that don’t enforce pandemic safety rules on their properties. Individuals who don’t wear masks in public places where they’re required to do so will also be subject to enforcement.

That increases the mask-enforcement potential in Champaign-Urbana beyond the actions proposed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration and approved earlier this week by the General Assembly’s bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

Under state regulations, businesses are held accountable for mask and gathering-size enforcement on their properties and are subject to warnings that, if ignored, can land them a Class A misdemeanor charge and fine up to $2,500. The state regulations specifically exempt individuals from those potential penalties for failing to wear a mask.

Health district board Chairwoman Danielle Chynoweth, who also serves as Cunningham Township supervisor, said the state mandate to wear masks was good news, “but it lacks proper enforcement.”

“Despite a rise in COVID transmission in our county, some are choosing to ignore that mandate, putting others at risk of infection and possible death,” she said.

Wearing masks protects others, she said.

Under the new health district ordinance, penalties on individual mask scofflaws are yet to be determined, but it will likely be police who will called on to enforce the rules when a customer or employee willfully refuses to wear a mask and someone complains about it, Chynoweth said. Complaints could also go to the health district, which could also provide the warnings, she said.

Enforcement will likely begin with an attempt to educate someone refusing to wear a mask about why they are important, and that would be followed by warnings and eventually a fine for people still refusing to comply, she said.

The upcoming weeks are a critical time in Champaign-Urbana with University of Illinois students returning to campus, Chynoweth said. It’s essential that the UI, the cities and the health district get everyone’s attention on the importance of wearing masks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, she said.

“As we see a third of our community return to Champaign County in one week, the next month is a very critical time for us to present a transmission of COVID-19,” she said.

Health district board member Andy Quarnstrom, who also serves as City of Champaign Township supervisor, said the board wanted to be able to enforce mask-wearing with both individuals and businesses for safety’s sake.

“There’d be a warning process,” he said of enforcement.

Chynoweth said she expects local residents to comply, just as they have with no-smoking rules.

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