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Stores Are Banning Reusable Bags During Coronavirus, But Chicago’s Still Collecting Its 7-Cent Bag Tax

Repealing the tax would require legislative action, said a spokesman from the Mayor's Office, but the city "continues to explore all options to mitigate the financial burdens on our residents."

Shoppers stock up on essentials as COVID-19 continues to spread.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LOGAN SQUARE — Grocery stores across the city are banning customers from using reusable bags during the pandemic — but they’re still collecting the tax on plastic and paper bags.

Illinois grocery stores are instituting new guidelines, and one of the biggest changes is they’re temporarily banning reusable bags, Gov. JB Pritzker said Saturday. This way, there’s less risk to employees bagging groceries amid the pandemic.

But in Chicago, customers will still be expected to pay a 7-cent tax per plastic or paper bag they use from the store.

Of the tax, 2 cents goes to the stores and 5 cents goes to the city. The tax makes more than $5 million per year for Chicago.

Repealing the tax would require legislative action, said a spokesman from the Mayor’s Office, but the city “continues to explore all options to mitigate the financial burdens on our residents.”

“During this period, retailers are still expected to continue collecting the tax …,” the spokesman said.

Stores themselves have an extension for paying the tax to the city: The remittance due dates for February and March, which would normally have been March 15 and April 15, have been moved back to April 30.

Stores are also instituting other measures:

  • There will be signs at entrances and exits alerting customers they must follow the 6-foot separation rule
  • Stores will have continuous announcements about social distancing rules
  • Floor markers will be set up to enforce social distancing at checkout
  • Cashless purchases are being encouraged
  • Staff will regularly walk the floor to advise customers follow social distancing guidelines
  • Plastic shields will be placed in front of cashiers and baggers
  • Online ordering and curbside pickup are encouraged
  • Using self-check out lanes is encouraged


Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

How To Protect Yourself

The CDC only recommends those are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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