Assaulting a worker who is enforcing face mask policies can now be prosecuted as aggravated battery in Illinois – a felony charge.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law Friday that expands the definition of aggravated battery to include attacks against a retail worker who is conveying public health guidance, such as requiring patrons to wear face coverings or promoting social distancing.
“It’s clear there is still an even greater need to get people to wear masks – especially to protect front line workers, whether they’re at the front of a store asking you to put on your mask or whether they’re responding to 911 calls to save those in distress,” Pritzker said in a statement.
A simple battery charge is considered a misdemeanor and can result in up to a year in prison and fines up to $2,500. An aggravated battery charge, on the other hand, is a felony that can result in a sentence of up to five years in prison – or up to 10 years depending on factors such as the individual’s criminal history – and fines up to $25,000.
The new law, effective immediately, also increases disability pay for emergency workers affected by COVID-19, including firefighters, law enforcement and paramedics.
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Pritzker on Friday also signed emergency rules for businesses, schools and child care establishments regarding the use of face masks and gatherings.
New daily cases in Illinois peaked in May amid worries that Chicago would become the second epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. That month, Pritzker implemented a statewide mask order, and new daily case counts began to trend downward.
But at the end of June, new daily cases began trending upward again. There are more than 195,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Illinois, and more than 7,600 people have died, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“We know that face coverings are key to helping prevent the spread of COVID-19, but it wonly works if everyone wears them,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in the statement. “We are seeing cases increasing each day and hearing about people not complying with the masking mandate. This rule is an effort to help keep all of us healthy and decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19.”
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Several states have seen incidents of violence against workers enforcing face mask policies. This month, police arrested a woman in New Jersey who assaulted another customer in a Staples store when that customer asked the woman to wear a face mask properly. In California, a woman shopping without a mask at a Trader Joe’s caused a scene, screaming profanities at employees. In Texas last week, a woman was recorded spitting on a 7-Eleven counter after the cashier refused to ring up her purchase because she was not wearing a mask. And in Massachusetts, a man pulled a gun on another customer outside a Walgreens pharmacy.