Winnebago County businesses risk closure for violating face mask guidelines, officials say

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Winnebago County officials will respond to repeated complaints of businesses and establishments where employees are not wearing face masks, Dr. Sandra Martell warned at a Tuesday press conference.

Martell, director of the Winnebago County Health Department, said that the county’s COVID-19 hotline receives “a surprising number” of complaints from clients and customers about businesses where employees aren’t wearing masks during the pandemic.

“Wearing a mask is a health issue,” she said. “Not a political or constitutional issue.”

Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney said he was very concerned with the surge of cases of coronavirus nationwide in states which opened up prior to Illinois.

“It is unnacceptable that mask wearing is becoming political,” Haney said. “It’s irrelevant if you disagree with the governor. What is relevant is stopping the spread [of COVID-19].”

“The work we did to get ahead is going to have to be the work we double down on for weeks and months to come,” he added.

Martell said the health department is keeping a list of businesses which have been in violation of the governor’s Executive Order. She said they will, at first, provide education for those for whom they have received repeated complaints, but will eventually work to close the business if they do not comply with safety protocols.

For food establishments, Martell said both the City of Rockford and the City of Beloit have a fining process.

Martell said the health department won’t work through process without first validating the complaint.

“If you want to protect your business, it’s the best investment,” she said. “If you [don’t enforce face masks], ask yourself how much you really love your business.”

She added that officials don’t want to harm businesses, but they want them to comply with safety guidelines, saying they always have ‘a few’ that don’t want to comply.

Martell said, “We are learning to co-exist with COVID-19. We’re still in Phase 4. Phase 5 requires an effective treatment of a vaccine.”

Rockford Mayor Tom MacNamara said, “We are in Phase 4 because we are working together as a community.”

Martell reiterated to the public that face coverings and social distancing are still required to prevent the spread of the disease.

The safest course of action, she said, is still to meet with other people in small groups outdoors and wear face coverings or a mask, with at least 6 feet of distance and with personal contact time less than 15 mins.

The riskiest socializing occurs indoors, without masks, without a 6 foot distance, with group sizes more than 50 and contact time more than 15 mins.

Before the upcoming 4th of July travel weekend, Martel recommended staying away from areas with higher rates of infection, using only personal vehicles, and not staying or visiting multiple households.

Martell said the county has seen 69 new cases since the state of Illinois entered Phase 4 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s five-stage Restore Illinois plan. There have been 3,016 total cases and 93 deaths to date.

Currently, the county has a 9% daily positivity rate on coronavirus testing, and 95% of people infected have recovered.

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