DeKalb County elected leaders and business owners say they’re not surprised by Gov. JB Pritzker’s indoor mask mandate announcement Thursday, which goes into effect Monday.
“I just hope this is an eye-opener for many people who aren’t vaccinated,” said DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes.
Barnes’s comments came hours after Pritzker announced Thursday morning a statewide indoor mask mandate for everyone 2 and older, effective Monday. He also announced a vaccine mandate effective Sept. 5 for all preschool through 12th-grade teachers and staff and higher education employees and students in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The mandates come down amid a significant rise in COVID-19 related hospitalizations downstate, with southern Illinois ICU hospital beds becoming scarce and lack of healthcare workers to staff those beds dwindling as the delta wave grips the state. Pritzker stressed Thursday the mandates are due to the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” as large amounts of the population have yet to receive the shot.
Days after urging residents to get vaccinated from COVID-19 in this week’s City Council meeting, Barnes said he was “not surprised” to hear about the mandates. He said area vaccination rates are low and “too many people continue to refuse to get vaccinated.”
As of Wednesday, about 42.5% of DeKalb’s population is fully vaccinated. Half of Cortland’s population is fully vaccinated, and 55.4% of Sycamore is, according to state zip code vaccination data.
Barnes said he’s concerned about outdoor events potentially getting canceled if the spread of the coronavirus’s delta variant doesn’t get back under control soon.
“And no one wants to go back to that,” Barnes said.
As far as Barnes is aware, he said indoor mask mandate enforcement is still going to fall primarily with the DeKalb County Health Department. He said the City isn’t planning on having police officers check on each business to make sure they’re following the mandate, for example.
“It’s a resource thing,” Barnes said. “We just don’t have the resources to do that.”
However, Barnes said city officials will have direct conversations with reported repeat offenders. In the meantime, he said wants people to keep on wearing their masks, washing their hands and keeping their physical distance from others.
“If not just for themselves, but for all those around them,” Barnes said.
Amid the rise of the COVID-19 delta variant, Cortland Mayor Mark Pietrowski Jr. said Thursday he “figured it was coming” in response to Pritzker’s announcement.
“Based on everything that’s going on, it’s not something that surprised me,” Pietrowski said. “It’s frustrating to me, as someone who got vaccinated as soon as I was able to in April, that there was kind of a little bit of a step backwards here.”
Pietrowski said he was starting to get excited about the prospect about possibly not having to wear masks anymore in the hopes that enough people would get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity from the virus. However, he said he understands Pritzker’s course of action.
“Anything that we have to do to help with that is something we gotta look at,” Pietrowski said.
Pietrowski said he took some mitigation steps of his own in the previous few weeks by once again requiring indoor mask-wearing policies at town government buildings and public meeting participants to wear masks.
Pietrowski maintains that, although “emergency action is one thing,” Illinois state government should call a special legislature session to create clearer COVID-19 related regulation.
“So there’s no more of that type of question” about the power of a mandate, Pietrowski said.
Genoa Mayor Jonathon Brust was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
A restauranteur’s perspective
Bill McMahon, owner of Faranda’s and Lincoln Inn in DeKalb, said he has been enjoying seeing more people’s faces again at his restaurant. However, as the current virus wave strengthens, he said lately he’s seen more patrons wear masks.
“But I could see it coming,” McMahon said. “We could definitely see it coming.”
McMahon said his mission has always been to provide a safe and healthy dining experience for customers. He said he has since had air purifiers and ultraviolet filters installed in his roughly 13,000 square feet of dining space near downtown DeKalb.
“We never have been contacted by any contact tracers,” McMahon said. “Staff has been healthy.”
McMahon said he hopes things get better soon so the community ”doesn’t have to wear them any further.” In the meantime, he said he believes he still can provide a safe dining experience for his patrons.
“And if we have to put a mask on to do that, we’ll do that,” McMahon said. “It’s not going to kill me to wear a mask, it’s not going to kill staff to wear masks and if people will feel safe, we’ll do it.”
Sycamore Mayor Steve Braser deferred comment to Acting City Manager Maggie Peck on Thursday.
Peck recalled the governor warned state residents in the previous weeks that he would take action again if COVID-19 case numbers kept rising.
“I was not surprised by any means,” Peck said.
Peck said the City has been adopting the county health department’s guidance “from the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“And we’ll continue to follow their guidance,” Peck said.
Peck said she talked to a couple of businesses while out and about Thursday morning just before the governor made his announcement. She pointed out that patrons see a lot of restaurant staff still wearing masks anyway.
“So I don’t think it’s going to be huge change for people,” Peck said. “ … We’ve done it once before.”
Peck said she doesn’t want to push any particular beliefs or actions on people when it comes to the City’s stance on vaccinations.
“My only hope is that residents and those visiting our communities stay safe and we … see a decline in the numbers.”