Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said state police officers are ramping up random checks and have "begun taking more stringent action to hold scofflaws accountable" as several businesses refuse to follow increased coronavirus restrictions in multiple counties.
"As we've unfortunately learned, some business owners refuse to get educated or just don't want to follow the rules, thereby putting their patrons, the public, and their workers in danger," Pritzker said Wednesday. "Sometimes educating people isn't enough to get them to do the right thing."
The state has added increased coronavirus restrictions, including the suspension of indoor dining, to at least eight of its 11 regions as of Wednesday. Some regions will see those restrictions taking effect later this week, while others already have them in place.
Dozens of Illinois restaurants and bars upset about the closure have vowed to remain open despite the new restrictions.
Seventy area businesses met last week and said they agreed to keep serving customers indoors despite the new state order. A west suburban steakhouse is also welcoming customers to dine inside after winning a temporary court order that prevents state and local officials from enforcing the indoor dining ban.
A spokesperson for Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker said the administration is disappointed the court ruled against public health protections that keep people safe. The state has since appealed the judge's ruling.
In Chicago, where the restrictions are set to begin Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot publicly called on Pritzker to reconsider.
“I'm not sure that we're reaching the right people with the restrictions that are going to be imposed by the state and that's my concern,” Lightfoot said in a recent interview.
Speaking on PBS’ “NewsHour,” Lightfoot said she was “very concerned” about the new regulations, warning they could have a massive impact on businesses in the city that are struggling amid the pandemic.
“If the governor’s order goes into effect, it’s really effectively shutting down a significant portion of our economy at a time when those same businesses are really hanging on by a thread,” she said. “So we’re going to try to continue our engagement with the governor and his team, but it’s not looking good.
“If we can’t convince him that other metrics should apply, then the shutdown unfortunately is going to take effect starting Friday,” she added.
Pritzker's office said the state was not inclined to make exceptions to its guidelines.
"Unfortunately, the virus doesn’t make exceptions, and it would be ill-advised to make exceptions to the rules we put in place as the best mitigations to stop the spread," a spokeswoman for the governor said in a statement.
"As the CDC has noted, bars and restaurants are major places of transmission risk. We’ll continue to provide support to businesses that are hard hit through our $630 million in grants," she continued.
Pritzker has said state police can issue citations to restaurants and bars that defy the state order, potentially removing their liquor licenses.
The Illinois governor said police will likely start with issuing warnings prior to giving citations for neglecting to follow the new requirements.
State Police Director Brendan Kelly said "voluntary compliance is always our focus."
He noted, however, that misdemeanor citations are a "last resort" if businesses don't heed a verbal warning, written warning and written order.
"Let me be clear, no one is arrested," Kelly said. "The governor and no one in law enforcement has ever suggested that as a possibility in the circumstance where a misdemeanor citation has been issued."
So far, Kelly said, citations have been issued in five counties.
"Again, compliance is always the goal," he said. "No more, no less."