In defiance of state mandate, Elk Grove mayor says 'masks optional' at local businesses
Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson has announced a "masks optional" policy for municipal buildings and businesses in town, in open defiance of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's statewide indoor mask requirement.
"All summer when we had our concerts going, when we had 20,000 people jampacked out there for the Beach Boys, we had Oktoberfest -- all the people under the tent having a great time and all that -- all the events we've had going on, we've not had a super-spreader event. We've not had issues," said Johnson, speaking during a village board meeting Tuesday night where he, trustees and most village staff members sat unmasked.
It's Johnson's latest challenge of state COVID-19 restrictions. The mayor made headlines last spring when he pledged to host summer concerts and other events without required masks, crowd capacity limits or social distancing standards.
Months later, the outdoor shows went on, but that was after Pritzker eased restrictions and moved the state into Phase 5 of his Restore Illinois plan. In late August, the governor reimposed an indoor mask requirement to combat a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant.
The latest move by Johnson -- whether it has legal teeth or not -- takes effect immediately.
Johnson said face coverings aren't required at village hall or other village-owned buildings, and local officials won't enforce the state's mandate for masks in other indoor public places.
But if a local business owner requires masks of customers, "that's his right to ask you to wear one," Johnson added.
In making the decision, Johnson cited the widespread availability of vaccines, small number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Amita Health Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove (seven, as of Tuesday, compared to a daily average of 125 a year ago), and a falling statewide test positivity rate (1.8%, as of Wednesday).
"Why hasn't it been lifted again?" Johnson said of the state masking rules.
Pritzker said last week he'd like to rescind the regulations in time for the holidays but wants to make sure the numbers keep going down.
"I want them to go away, too," Pritzker said of the mask mandates on Oct. 19. "But we want to make sure we're keeping people healthy and safe, and following the guidelines doctors are offering to us."
Johnson's public proclamation comes less than three weeks after he attended President Joe Biden's visit to the Elk Grove Technology Park, where the president used the backdrop of a construction site to tout his push for employers to require vaccinations of workers.
Johnson is pro-vaccine, having encouraged residents to get the shots and hosting local vaccine clinics in the spring. But he's anti-mandate, saying village employees won't be required to get vaccinated; 93% chose to on their own, he said.
"I have been saying since January: 'Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.' I truly believe in my heart the way to beat this thing thoroughly the best we can is getting vaccinated," Johnson said. "I've had my two shots. I've had my booster. ... However, we also respect people's right to choose."