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Chicago COVID Cases Still Need To Drop Before Mask Mandate Can End, Top Doc Says

Once Chicago is out of the substantial risk category for new cases, and if it stays out for a period, then the mask mandate could potentially be lifted, Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Patrons wear masks and practice social distancing at The Art Institute of Chicago amid the COVID-19 pandemic on September 12, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Chicago might have better control of its COVID-19 outbreak than its Midwestern neighbors — but things still need to improve before the indoor mask mandate can be lifted, the health commissioner said Thursday.

The Delta variant fueled a surge this summer that led to Chicago requiring people to wear masks when indoors in public starting Aug. 20. Illinois officials then instituted a similar statewide mask requirement.

Cases reported per day and the city’s positivity rate have dropped since then — but it’s not yet safe to do away with the mask mandate, Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a Thursday livestream.

“I want things to stay open,” Arwady said. “Masks are a part of that right now.”

Chicago is seeing an average of 294 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.

“If and when we get back down to under that 200 cases per day mark with adequate testing, and if we can stay there … it will come off,” Arwady said.

Officials are worried because nearby states — including Michigan and Minnesota — have seen COVID-19 cases climb as cold weather has set in. That hasn’t happened in Illinois yet, Arwady said, but officials wanted to see the outbreak under better control before they risk doing something that makes transmission easier.

“Illinois is doing much better than all of the states around us from a COVID perspective. That’s not an accident,” Arwady said. “I have no intention of changing what we’ve been doing all along, which is sticking to the best evidence that we have for things that have hallowed us to stay open.”

Once Chicago is out of the substantial risk category for new cases, and if it stays out for a period, then the mask mandate could potentially be lifted, Arwady said.

Gov. JB Pritzker said earlier this month 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.

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.”

Arwady said the best way people can help drive down numbers is by getting vaccinated and getting their children vaccinated.

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 7.2 million people — or 56.86 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 46,088 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 15,480,626 vaccine doses of the 18,559,125 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.6 million Chicagoans — or 59.4 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 64.6 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:

• Forty-two Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19 since Wednesday.

• At least 25,749 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 2,842 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 2,601 cases since Wednesday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 1,692,875.

• Since Wednesday, 138,167 tests were reported statewide. In all, 34,999,894 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 1.9 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 1.8 Wednesday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 2.2 percent. It was at 2.2 percent Wednesday.

• As of Wednesday night, 289 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 139 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, seven deaths were reported since Wednesday. There have been at least 5,893 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of more than three deaths per day, down 12 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago has had 406 confirmed cases reported since Wednesday. It’s had a total of 326,784 confirmed cases. An average of 294 confirmed cases are being reported per day, a 2 percent increase from the week prior.

• Testing in Chicago is up 8 percent since a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 1.6 percent, down from 1.9 percent the week prior.

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