Patrons wear masks and practice social distancing at The Art Institute of Chicago amid the COVID-19 pandemic on September 12, 2020. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — All people 2 and older must once again wear masks when indoors in public in Chicago starting Friday, officials announced Tuesday.

The return of the mask mandate comes as the city sees a surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the more contagious Delta variant. Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the city health department, said other restrictions are not expected at this time and public schools will return to in-person learning as planned come Aug. 30.

“We’re hopeful that having the mask in place for everybody will get us through Delta while we keep working on getting folks vaccinated,” Arwady said at a news conference. “Our goal is to remain open but careful.”

Masks will be required for all people — including those fully vaccinated — so long as they’re 2 or older and indoors in a public place like a restaurant, gym or common area in an apartment building.

Masks can be removed when a person is actively eating or drinking at bars and restaurants, and they can be taken off for things that require their removal, like beard shaves and facials. People working in settings not open to the public and who can remain distant from coworkers — like those in office cubicles — can also remove their masks, according to the city’s policy.

And the masks are not required when in outdoor settings, like patios, said Ken Meyer, acting commissioner of the city’s business department.

Officials expect businesses to enforce the mandate among patrons, Meyer said. City inspectors can issue warnings to businesses where people don’t wear masks or, if they see some “egregious,” take more serious steps, like citing the owners, Meyer said.

Businesses looking for city guidance can go online. The city will host informational webinars for businesses 10 a.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Friday. Registration is available online.

Officials will look at ending the mask mandate if Chicago sees fewer than 400 cases per day for a consistent period, likely at least two weeks, and while other metrics remain lower, Arwady said.

But if COVID-19 metrics rise — like if the city sees more than 800 cases per day or if hospitals start getting overwhelmed — then officials may bring back other restrictions, Arwady said.

Arwady said she anticipates to see COVID-19 surge for several more weeks — or up to a month or two — before numbers fall and the mask mandate can return to a recommendation.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in July the city would consider bringing back a mask mandate if Chicago consistently saw more than 200 cases per day. Instead, when the city passed that mark a few days later, officials simply recommended people start wearing them indoors in public.

Now, Chicago is seeing 419 new cases per day, on average.

Arwady said that’s still significantly lower than during prior waves of coronavirus: During the first wave in spring 2020, the city saw an average of about 1,000 new cases per day. That fall, there were about 2,500 cases per day at the peak, she said.

Chicago seeing 400 cases per day is “concerning. It’s why we’re acting,” Arwady said. “But in terms of where we’ve been as a city, it is not a cause for alarm; it is a cause for caution.”

Hospitalizations and deaths remain lower than they were during previous surges, but they’ve also risen in recent weeks.

The latest wave of coronavirus has had the deepest impact on unvaccinated people, who have made up more than 97 percent of recent hospitalizations and deaths in Chicago, officials have said.

And as Delta spreads — driving up cases, hospitalizations and deaths — mask mandates and other safety measures have been making a return across the country. Chicago has brought back its travel advisory, which now features 39 states and three territories.

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.


• In Illinois, about 6.6 million people of all ages — or 52.04 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — have gotten all their COVID-19 vaccine shots, according to state data.

• Across the state, 39,011 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 13,666,507 vaccine doses of the 15,425,975 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.46 million Chicagoans — or 54.2 percent of all residents — have gotten fully vaccinated. About 59.6 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:

• Sixteen Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19 since Monday.

• At least 23,640 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 2,504 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 3,639 cases since Monday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 1,470,452.

• Since Monday, 54,010 tests were reported statewide. In all, 27,833,923 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day positivity rate was at 5.4 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 5.3 percent Monday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 6.2 percent. It was at 6 percent Monday.

• As of Monday night, 446 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 211 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, eight deaths were reported since Monday. There have been at least 5,558 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of more than two deaths per day, a 24 percent decrease from the week prior.

• Chicago has had 425 confirmed cases reported since Monday. It’s had a total of 296,678 confirmed cases. An average of 419 confirmed cases are being reported per day, a 21 percent increase from the week prior.

• At the same time, testing has increased 3 percent since a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 4.3 percent, up from 3.8 percent the week prior.

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