(The Center Square) — Municipal officials throughout the state are considering measures to grant local leaders emergency powers to ban the sale of things such as guns, gasoline and liquor as concerns over the spread of COVID-19 mount.

Last week, President Donald Trump wrote in a letter: “I have determined that the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant an emergency determination under … the ‘Stafford Act’.”

The move allows local and state governments to get assistance from the federal government. It also gives more powers to the federal government to manage declared emergencies.

“In order to meet the challenges caused by this emergency pandemic, I have encouraged all State and local governments to activate their Emergency Operations Centers and to review their emergency preparedness plans,” Trump said.

Also last week, Champaign city officials unanimously approved a resolution giving the city the ability to, among other things, halt the sale of weapons and gasoline, and close businesses including liquor establishments, ration supplies, compel evacuations and cut off utilities.

“You don’t have to wait for the train to run over you before you get out of the way,” Champaign City Attorney Fred Stavins said. “It’s important that this is an effort to get ahead of this rather than wait for the worst situation in the community."

Dan Nusbaum owns Green Street Cafe in Champaign. He said the measure concerned him.

“I guess being a small business person I’m kind of scared of what your definition of massive outbreak is compared to mine,” Nusbaum said. “Not all of us can sustain a 28-day closure if that happens.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has closed dine-in service at restaurants and bars. Kitchens are allowed to stay open for curbside, window and delivery orders. Pritzker’s order also prohibits gatherings of 50 or more, which could affect other businesses from manufacturers to bowling alleys.

In Springfield, officials introduced a measure this week to allow the mayor to declare an emergency and establish a curfew. 

“The Champaign ordinance goes quite a bit farther, but we can go through this,” Springfield corporation counsel Jim Zerkle said. “This sets the framework ... because our current code of ordinances does not address the situation of a local state of emergency.”

Springfield aldermen will take up the proposed ordinance to allow the mayor to establish a curfew and suspend gas, weapons and liquor sales at an emergency meeting Tuesday.

Springfield Alderwoman Kristin DiCenso said when she saw Champaign’s ordinance, she thought “this is crazy.” She said even though Springfield’s proposal doesn’t include evictions, or rationing private property, or other provisions, it still goes too far.

“I don’t think we should give the mayor or anyone at the city level that kind of power to restrict peoples’ fundamental rights,” DiCenso said. “This isn’t personal. This isn’t a dictatorship, this is a democracy.”

DiCenso said she wants the city to show residents a plan to continue providing city services during an emergency.

She also said the private sector had already taken steps to slow the spread, such as some retailers providing specific hours for elderly people to shop.

“I think that’s the right thing to do because they are the most susceptible to this virus,” DiCenso said.

The Illinois Food Retailers Association said some stores had implemented purchasing limits on popular items to prevent hoarding.

In East Dundee, GAT Guns told customers in an email that because of increased sales throughout the firearm industry, it imposed restrictions on firearm and ammunition purchases “until further notice.” GAT Guns will limit customers to one box of target ammunition and one box of defense ammunition per caliber, per household, per day. It also will halt firearm purchases 3 hours before closing and suspended processing of Firearm Owner Identification card and concealed carry applications.

“Additionally, in an attempt to minimize our customers' and staff's exposure to COVID-19 Virus, we have made the decision to postpone the majority of our training programs and classes,” the message said.

Pritzker said Wednesday that all options to slow the spread of COVID-19 remain on the table.

“All of the things that we’ve heard, even the restrictions that have been put in place in France, Spain, Italy, those are all things that we are looking at, maybe we need to do those sooner, or right now,” Pritzker said. “Of course we’re examining it, but I am also trying to be cognizant of the medical science, the guidance that we’re getting isn’t quite there yet and I want to follow that. Being arbitrary doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Later Wednesday, Pritzker said, "as rumors continue to swirl, I do want to assure all of you essential services will always remain available."

"Grocery stores, gas stations, the things we all need will not be closing down," he said.  

Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday the administration activated Federal Emergency Management Agency Level 1.

“FEMA’s mission is to support disasters that are locally executed, state managed, and federally supported,” Pence said.

A video conference with the president, FEMA and the nation’s governors will be held to “ensure that they have full connection to all the activated regions of FEMA going forward,” Pence said.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by a new type of coronavirus that emerged in late 2019. State health officials revealed 128 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois to 288. Nine days ago, there were 11 confirmed cases in the state.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.