'A paradigm shift': How St. Charles is promoting the use of face masks

 
 
Updated 8/6/2020 6:32 PM

When it comes to enforcing face mask regulations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, St. Charles police and city officials have taken an approach that focuses less on punishment and more on education.

Strategies have included handing out brochures and personal protective equipment, putting up signs in high-traffic areas and engaging in discussions with business owners or patrons who don't comply, police Chief James Keegan said.

 

Though a city ordinance allows citations to be issued to repeat offenders, he said, officials have been more likely to refer those cases to the Kane County Health Department.

"I really think it's going to take time," Keegan said. "It's a new normal, it's a paradigm shift, and we're trying to do the best we can to work with everybody."

An executive order issued by Mayor Ray Rogina this past spring requires all residents and visitors to cover their nose and mouth in public, particularly when six feet of social distancing can't be maintained. The local order, which applies to employees and patrons of businesses, took effect May 1 in coordination with a statewide mask mandate.

Effective communication will be key to achieving citywide compliance, said Alderman Rita Payleitner, who called for a discussion on the topic earlier this week.

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Educational brochures and signs posted in public gathering spaces, such as the downtown First Street Plaza, have been a positive first step, she said. But Payleitner suggested developing a broader public service campaign, as is being done in Naperville, to better convey the message.

Business cards could be handed out, and signs could be placed in individual storefronts. Restaurants could add table tents reminding customers to wear masks when they're not in their seats. Alderman Lora Vitek suggested promoting the message on social media.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Monday that he would be launching a $5 million multimedia campaign to push for the use of face coverings.

St. Charles has been "extremely proactive" so far, City Administrator Mark Koenen said, noting there haven't been any issues in municipal buildings.

But Keegan pointed to complaints of noncompliance in other parts of town, including parks, restaurants, stores and public facilities such as the library. Rather than issuing a minimum $50 fine to violators, he said, officers have been trying to explain the reasoning behind the mandate and the possible repercussions -- exposure to COVID-19, business closures, or worse -- of not following public health guidelines.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Mixed messages and inconsistent guidelines at the national level have led to a misunderstanding of how, when and why masks should be used, Alderman Todd Bancroft said, making the rule more difficult to enforce. He lauded the police department's handling of the situation, saying the goal is to "get people to err on the side of caution."

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising in Kane County, Alderman Ron Silkaitis said he fears the area will move back into a more restrictive phase of the state's Restore Illinois plan if businesses and community members continue "flouting the rules."

"We can't let that go," he said. "I would strongly encourage people to wear masks. We need to publicize that, but we also need to enforce it."

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