FILE - Gov. J.B. Pritzker, 7-30-20

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference in Peoria.

(The Center Square) – Elected officials in one Illinois city voted down a local mask ordinance.

The central Illinois community of Le Roy with a population of about 3,500, will not require masks to be used within city limits. A statewide rule requires people to wear face masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when in public places where social distancing is not possible.

The City Council voted down a proposed ordinance that would have required face coverings for people who were working, shopping at local businesses, picking up food at a drive-thru or curbside, or interacting with people at businesses and churches.

On social media before the vote, Mayor Steve Dean suggested the council table the ordinance to give state officials time to clarify the guidelines. The mayor said the local ordinance wasn't needed because Gov. J.B. Pritzker's mandate – and a recent rule requiring businesses to enforce the mask mandate or face fines – had the same effect.

"If approved by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, the state ruling would render the proposed local ordinance moot," Dean wrote on Twitter.

Dean also noted that as of Aug. 11, the city had 9 reported cases of COVID-19.

However, the City Council didn't table the local ordinance. Rather, several City Council members said they had heard from local residents who voiced opposition to the mask ordinance.

Alderman Kelly Lay, who represents the city's first ward, said she voted "no" on the ordinance because she didn't think it was needed in light of the statewide mandate.

"There is no reason to have a local ordinance when the state has already taken care of that," she said.

However, she said while the City Council voted down the ordinance, it was not her intention to give residents the impression that they could flout the statewide mask requirements. She said enforcement would be handled by the local health department and the county sheriff's office.

Alderman Greg Steffen said he doesn't think masks are very effective in the first place. 

“I don’t think the mask is going to do much,” Steffen said. “I have no problem with people wearing a mask, but it is their choice, not the government’s to dictate it.”

Multiple studies have shown mask use can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend the use of face masks to help prevent transmission of the virus.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mask enforcement is directed at businesses, not individuals. A business owner could be punished with fines up to $2,500 if customers or staff were not wearing a mask after multiple warnings.

Steffen said it is up to businesses in Le Roy to require face coverings, and if they don’t require masks, so be it.

“I am not sure who is going to enforce that, but the city is not,” Steffen said.

Superintendent of Schools Gary Tipsord said the vote does not affect local schools because students will be wearing masks as required by the state.

“Our priority is to be able to provide in-person instruction for 175 days, and we are going to follow the appropriate guidance and protocol that will hopefully get us there,” Tipsord said.

One business, Leroy True Value, does not require face coverings while in the store. 

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.