Skip to contents

Masks Could Be Required In Chicago Again as COVID Spikes, Lightfoot Warns

Mayor Lightfoot said she's not considering a mask mandate for now, but she's concerned as COVID-19 spikes in Chicago.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot removes her mask before speaking at City Hall on May 3, 2021, when Dr. Janice Jackson announced she will step down as CEO of Chicago Public Schools.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
  • Credibility:

CHICAGO — The mask mandate and other safety measures could come back to Chicago if the city’s coronavirus numbers keep ticking upward, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has warned.

Chicago’s daily average new number of cases and its positivity rate have spiked in recent weeks, with experts, including health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, blaming the more contagious Delta variant, not enough people getting vaccinated and people letting down their guard.

This weekend, Lightfoot said in a New York Times podcast she would consider bringing back Chicago’s mask requirement if the surge gets worse.

“If we get back into an area where we feel like we’re in a red zone … we’re not only going to look at a mask mandate, but we’re going to look back at other tools that we’ve been compelled to use,” Lightfoot said. “I hope we don’t get there.”

Illinois instated a statewide mask mandate April 23, 2020, as the pandemic’s first wave tore through the state. Everyone was required to wear a face covering in public spaces.

The rule was gradually relaxed this spring as more people got vaccinated and, by mid-May, the city said fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks indoors. Officials have continued to recommend mask-wearing for unvaccinated people.

But the country is in the midst of a COVID-19 surge, and Chicago’s and Illinois’ numbers have been on their way back up.

Lightfoot and Arwady held a news conference last week where they said they were sounding the alarm bells over Chicago’s worsening outbreak. The two said they want to keep Chicago to less than an average of 200 new cases per day, as that’s the the point when Chicago tips back into the “moderate risk” category.

The city’s already well on its way to sweeping past that, as it’s climbed from an average of 70 cases per day one week ago to an average of 130 cases daily as of Monday. It’s even had individual days climb well into the “moderate risk” category: Chicago saw 301 cases reported between Thursday and Friday, and 291 cases were recorded the day before.

Lightfoot warned in the podcast that the mask mandate or other safety measures could return if the city starts “consistently going over that” 200-case mark.

And Arwady said last week she expects to see cases keep rising unless something is done — and that could lead to another spike in people being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19.

Lightfoot and Arwady have urged people to get vaccinated, emphasizing more than 95 percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 or who have recently died from the virus didn’t have all their vaccine shots.

Just more than half of all Illinoisans are now fully vaccinated. Chicago is slightly ahead, with about 52 percent of residents having gotten all their shots.

People should also continue to take safety precautions, like wearing masks in public spaces and avoiding large gatherings if they’re not fully vaccinated, officials said.

Chicago Won’t Force City Workers To Be Vaccinated—Yet

On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced all unvaccinated city workers must be tested for COVID-19 weekly starting in September. This will include police officers, firefighters and teachers. In Los Angeles, a mask mandate has returned following a surge in cases, and all California state employees will have to be vaccinated or be tested weekly.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron has ordered all health care workers to get vaccinated and will deny unvaccinated people entry into many indoor public venues. Other countries plan to follow suit.

When asked if Chicago is considering any of these actions, Lightfoot on Monday said while cases are rising week-over-week, the city is not in the “danger zone” yet — so no changes are planned.

“We’re looking at a lot of different options,” Lightfoot said when asked about mandating vaccines for city workers. “We’ll be having those conversations with our partners in organized labor.”

Lightfoot also defended moving forward with Lollapalooza, saying festival organizers have worked closely with the Department of Public Health to keep things safe. She said the main thing she’s focused on is getting more people vaccinated — specifically Black Chicagoans on the South Side.

Black South Siders have the lowest vaccination rates in the city, she said.

“I want to make sure everyone takes advantage of this life-saving vaccine and no one is put in the position where they’re sick and in a hospital on a ventilator and wishing, ‘If I had only gotten vaccinated,’” Lightfoot said. “We need people to raise their hand and say, ‘I want the vaccine.’ We’ll bring it to your house.”


• In Illinois, about 6.4 million people of all ages — or 50.42 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — have gotten all their COVID-19 vaccine shots, according to state data.

• Across the state, 18,439 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 13,098,572 vaccine doses of the 14,648,445 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.39 million Chicagoans — or 51.8 percent of all residents — have gotten fully vaccinated. About 57.9 percent of all Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.

The numbers:

• Eight Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19 since Friday.

• At least 23,409 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 2,472 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 3,892 cases since Friday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 1,411,821.

• Since Friday, 113,213 tests were reported statewide. In all, 26,647,342 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day positivity rate was at 3.5 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 3.3 percent Friday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 3.9 percent. It was at 3.5 percent Friday.

• As of Sunday night, 152 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 54 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, no deaths were reported since Friday. There have been at least 5,496 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of less than one death per day, a 43 percent decrease from the week prior.

• Chicago has had 551 confirmed cases reported since Friday. It’s had a total of 288,750 confirmed cases. An average of 130 confirmed cases are being reported per day, a 76 percent increase from the week prior.

• At the same time, testing has decreased 19 percent since a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 2.2 percent, up from 1.1 percent the week prior.

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

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation. 

Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: