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Mask Mandate Could Be Removed In Time For Holidays If COVID Numbers Fall, Pritzker Says

Though COVID-19 numbers have dropped in recent weeks, they remain higher than they were before the Delta variant hit. Chicago is still in the "substantial" risk category when it comes to new cases.

People wait in line at the United Center mass vaccination site in the Near West Side neighborhood on March 9, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Chicago’s top doctor is talking to state officials about removing the mask mandate — once COVID-19 cases come down.

Chicago again started requiring people to wear masks when indoors in public on Aug. 20, as the virus’s Delta variant drove up cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Illinois officials then instituted a similar statewide mask requirement.

Dr. Allison Arwady, head of Chicago’s health department, said she’s talked to the Illinois Department of Public Health about the possibility of removing the state’s mask mandate for Chicago if the local outbreak gets better under control.

“I know there’s a lot of interest in not needing to wear the masks. I, of course, would love to be in a place” where they aren’t needed, Arwady said at a Monday news conference.

That removal is likely not “imminent,” though, Arwady said.

Gov. JB Pritzker, speaking at a Tuesday morning news conference, said he and other officials continue to “watch the numbers” to determine when they’ll pull back on mitigations. He did not say how much metrics need to fall for the mask mandate to be removed.

Though COVID-19 numbers have dropped in recent weeks, they remain higher than they were before the Delta variant hit. Chicago is seeing an average of 291 cases reported per day, which means it is still in the “substantial” category when it comes to the risk of transmitting the virus.

Once Chicago get below 200 cases per day, it will be back in the “lower” risk category.

“I have been talking with [the Illinois Department of Public Health] about taking that regional approach and being able to remove that as an indoor mask requirement,” Arwady said. “If we get out of that substantial risk category, I’d be very happy. But, really, looking ahead, we’ll have a better sense by, I think, Thanksgiving.”

Pritzker said state officials want to see the mask mandate removed in time for the holidays — particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas — since people spend extended periods of time together then. But it depends on the numbers, he said.

“I want [mitigations] to go away, too. But we want to make sure that we’re keeping people healthy and safe, following the guidelines that doctors are offering for us,” he said. “We’ll continue to do that. Obviously, we want to remove the mitigations as we approach the holidays. … We want to make sure those numbers keep going down.”

Nearby Michigan and Minnesota have seen their COVID-19 cases sharply rise as the weather has cooled and people spend more time indoors. Wisconsin is also starting to see its cases go up, Arwady said.

That mimics what was seen last year, when northern states — including Illinois — experienced a surge in coronavirus during the fall. That surge weakened but lasted into the winter. Officials have said the surge was at least partly fueled by people spending more time indoors, where it’s easier for the virus to be transmitted.

Illinois and Chicago are not reporting a rise in cases, but officials have expressed concerns about the winter.

The best thing people can do to stay protected and limit the virus’s spread is to get vaccinated, Arwady said.

“We know that, typically, as cold weather comes, we see respiratory viruses start to spread,” Arwady said. “Where we can get folks vaccinated now, it helps protect them through the flu season and what will likely be some increase [in COVId-19 cases] related to weather.”

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 7.1 million people — or 56.33 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — have gotten all their COVID-19 vaccine shots, according to state data.

• Across the state, 29,477 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 15,099,528 vaccine doses of the 18,103,035 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.58 million Chicagoans — or 58.9 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 64 percent of all Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot.

Everyone 12 and older is eligible to get vaccinated in Chicago.

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:

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

• At least 25,491 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 2,801 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 2,071 cases since Monday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 1,673,346.

• Since Monday, 77,197 tests were reported statewide. In all, 34,093,934 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 2 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 2 percent Monday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 2.4 percent. It was at 2.4 percent Monday.

• As of Monday night, 332 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 173 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, eight deaths were reported since Monday. There have been at least 5,855 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of more than three deaths per day, down 21 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago has 372 had confirmed cases reported since Monday. It’s had a total of 323,725 confirmed cases. An average of 287 confirmed cases are being reported per day, a 12 percent decrease from the week prior.

• Testing in Chicago is down 10 percent since a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 2 percent, unchanged from the week prior.

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