Failure to cover one’s face while working in or patronizing an essential business and other behaviors which could spread the Coronavirus disease could now earn a $150 fine.

Evanston City Council members approved a change in their City Code to include “pandemics” as a separate category and added a penalty section for individuals who fail to comply with public health emergency orders.

Ike Ogbo, the City’s Health & Human Services Director, recommended in favor of the change, requesting a suspension of Council rules, which normally require two weeks between introduction of an ordinance and its approval.

The change includes adding pandemics as a category which requires a public health response. “The current Code only mentions epidemics, which, unlike pandemics, are often a sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease,” Mr. Ogbo wrote in his memo, recommending support. “A pandemic is a worldwide spread of a new disease.”

The ordinance also adds “an enforcement piece, and this will pretty much apply to any activity that someone indulges in where an individual can spread a disease,” he told aldermen. “So it can range from having large gatherings, mask-wearing in grocery stores, you name it.”

“So we just wanted to give this ordinance some enforcement piece, so whenever there is a need for that it will be available to us,” he said. “So it pretty much encompasses any situation where an individual or individuals can spread the disease.”

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, noted that the mask order that the City issued April 23 is still new. She asked Mr. Ogbo how the penalty provision would apply, such as in a case where she went to a grocery store and failed to wear her cloth face covering mask as now required.

“I just want to be very clear for folks, so that they don’t think this isn’t just a revenue generator for us,” she said.

Mr. Ogbo said that was not the case. In the Health Department, “we are not inclined to issue fines; we are more inclined to provide education. If push comes to shove, this is pretty much the last step for us to gain compliance,” he said.

He added that the City has not issued any fines yet for behavior violating public health orders during the pandemic up to this point. “We’ve issued a number of letters to (non-essential)  businesses, but no fines. We try as much as possible to provide education.”

During the Citizen Comment session earlier in the meeting, longtime resident Doreen Price raised concerns about rushing the ordinance through without more community discussion.

 “It’s alarming that A-14 [the designation of the ordinance], regarding a pandemic that could last more than a year would be rushed through without community discussion and scrutiny as it pertains to (individuals) rights and general or specific enforcement policies and  procedures,” she said.

Ordinance violations are ordinarily held in front of the City’s Administrative Adjudication Court, where the hearing officers are hired by the City. The proposed ordinance would also allow the City’s Corporate Counsel to file a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County to enjoin any person from violating its provisions. No examples of violations are included in the ordinance.

“It’s time social justice is on the front end, just like the juvenile justice initiatives, which we all know are fantastic,” Ms. Price told aldermen. “Relying on tired and broken courts and ordinances focused on punishment don’t serve us as well as prioritizing health and well-being, short and long term. Neither ordinance enforcement as well as revenue generation need be punitive.”

The ordinance passed by a 9-0 vote.



Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.