CHICAGO — Illinois’ mask mandate is ending Feb. 28.
The state will lift the rule — which requires people to wear masks when indoors in public — at the end of the month as long as it continues to see declines in COVID-19 metrics, Gov. JB Pritzker said Wednesday.
Chicago officials announced they’ll also lift the city’s mask and vaccine card requirements at the end of February if local metrics decline.
The moves go against recommendations from the leader of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They’re being done as key metrics — like the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Chicago and throughout Illinois — have dropped in recent weeks after peaking in late December and early January during the Omicron surge. But some metrics remain just as high, if not higher, than they were when the mandates were put in place in August.
“We’ve used masks less when spread is diminished and hospitals have enough bandwidth,” Pritzker said at a news conference. “Our approach has saved lives and kept our economy open and growing.”
People will still have to wear masks in some spots, and the state will still officially recommend mask use — it’s just won’t require it.
Businesses, cities, counties and other entities can still enforce their own mask mandates.
Where masks will still be required:
- Day cares.
- Health care facilities.
- Congregate care facilities.
- Public transportation, including buses, trains and airplanes.
- Federal buildings in areas of high of substantial risk of transmission.
- Long-term care facilities when in communal areas.
- In businesses that privately require mask use.
- When in municipalities, like cities or counties, that have mask mandates.
The state could keep the mask mandate in place if things change, like if there is a variant that drives up hospitalizations, officials said. And they said the mask mandate could return in the future.
“It helps to have everyone mask,” Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease doctor at University of Chicago Medicine, said at the news conference. “But when cases are low, the likelihood of encountering someone with COVID is also low, making universal masking mandates less impactful.
“… This isn’t an end to the pandemic. And it’s not going back to normal.”
Some local governments and districts have already said masking is not required in schools after a downstate judge declared the statewide school requirement “null and void.” Chicago Public Schools still requires masking.
Pritzker has urged schools to keep up a masking requirement as the state appeals the judge’s decision. But the governor said that mandate could also be done away with within weeks.
The school rule must stay in place because schools see hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of people mingling for six hours or more, five days per week for weeks on end, which is very different than a sports game or bar, Pritzker said.
“I would like very much for it to be removed as soon as humanly possible, … but the truth is that we need to follow the advice of doctors, epidemiologists, who understand this well,” Pritzker said.
Landon said unmasked classrooms and counties without school mask mandates have been more likely to go remote or suspend classes than districts where students do wear masks. And officials said more kids need to get vaccinated and the youngest children need to become eligible for vaccines before schools can be mask-free.
Officials also urged residents to be respectful of people who continue to use masks, saying many families have members who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 or who are too young to get vaccinated.
Illinois’ latest mask mandate went into effect Aug. 30 as the Delta surge drove up cases, hospitalizations and deaths. On that day, the state reported 4,041 COVID-19 cases and 60 more Illinoisans dead from the virus.
The mandate has remained in effect even as other states pulled back their restrictions and Illinois became one of the few states left in the nation to still mandate masks in public.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky urged officials this week to keep masking requirements in place for schools and other public places, saying “now is not the moment” to stop, according to Reuters.
And Illinois’ numbers remain high: 5,825 confirmed cases and 87 COVID-19 deaths were reported Tuesday.
The city’s mandate was also put into effect in August as the city was seeing an average of more than 400 new confirmed cases per day. It also started requiring residents to show proof of vaccination at restaurants, bars and other venues in early January in response to the Omicron surge.
As of Tuesday evening, Chicago was reporting an average of 561 new confirmed cases per day. But local officials said recently the city’s mask mandate could be removed soon as cases drop after the Omicron surge.
After Pritzker’s announcement, the city health department released a statement saying it will also lift Chicago’s mask and vaccine card mandates at the end of February if it sees a drop in COVID-19 metrics.
The Chicago Department of Public Health is tracking four “primary community transmission and risk metrics”: COVID-19 cases diagnosed per day, test positivity, hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Once three of the four fall into the “lower transmission risk” category and stay there for at least two weeks, the city will lift restrictions, according to the health department.
As of Wednesday, one metric — the city’s test positivity — is in the “lower” category. Two metrics — hospital and ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients — are in the next-highest category, while the city’s average number of cases diagnosed per day is still in the “high” category.
“When the city makes this transition, many Chicagoans may continue to wear masks in public spaces for a variety of reasons, even if they are vaccinated or as mandates and advisories fade,” according to the health department. “Someone may be immunocompromised, prefer to wear a mask or have a family member who is immunocompromised or too young to be vaccinated.
“Please be kind and conscientious of your fellow Chicagoans and the decisions they make to protect themselves.”
• In Illinois, about 7.9 million people — or 62.84 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.
• Across the state, 23,504 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.
• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 20,775,048 vaccine doses of the 23,348,645 provided to them.
• City data shows more than 1.8 million Chicagoans — or 67.6 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 75.6 percent of all Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot.
Everyone 5 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.
• Since Tuesday, 109 Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19.
• At least 31,679 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 3,921 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.
• The state reported 4,742 cases since Tuesday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 2,982,083.
• Since Tuesday, 124,732 tests were reported statewide. In all, 52,372,521 tests have been reported in Illinois.
• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 4.9 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 5.4 percent Tuesday.
• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 6.5 percent. It was at 7 percent Tuesday.
• As of Tuesday night, 449 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 243 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.
• In Chicago, 20 deaths were reported since Tuesday. There have been at least 7,088 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of more than nine people dying per day, down 44 percent from a week ago.
• Chicago has had 681 confirmed cases reported since Tuesday. It’s had a total of 551,095 confirmed cases. An average of 561 confirmed cases are being reported per day, down 47 percent from a week ago.
• Testing in Chicago is down 17 percent from a week ago.
• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 2.9 percent, down from 4.4 percent a week ago.
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