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US ‘Not There Yet’ When It Comes To Removing Masks In Public, CDC Head Says

Illinois and Chicago officials announced Wednesday they'll end the state and city mask mandates at the end of February so long as COVID-19 figures continue to fall.

A person wears a Chicago flag-themed mask outside of the Art Institute of Chicago on April 30, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The leader of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency is continuing to recommend mask use in public, indoor places — but it’s up to states and local officials to make decisions about that issue.

Illinois and Chicago officials announced Wednesday they’ll end the state and city mask mandates at the end of February so long as COVID-19 figures continue to fall. Those mask mandates were implemented in August, when the Delta variant was driving up COVID-19 cases locally and statewide.

Such figures have fallen dramatically in recent weeks after the Omicron variant brought them to new peaks — but cases per day, hospitalizations and death still remain as high, if not higher, than when the mandates were implemented in Chicago and statewide.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday during a briefing that it’s too soon for Americans to remove their masks when indoors in public.

“Our hospitalizations are still high. Our death rates are still high,” Walensky said. “As we work toward that and as we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet.”

Walensky also told Marc Siegel, host of SiriusXM’s Doctor Radio Reports, the CDC’s recommendations about masking have not changed and the agency is encouraging students to wear masks in schools when indoors.

But the CDC has also said such policies will be made at the state and local levels, Walensky said.

Illinois’ mask mandate is set to end Feb. 28.

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:

  • Schools.
  • 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.

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.

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 8 million people — or 62.92 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 24,334 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 20,803,108 vaccine doses of the 23,388,545 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.8 million Chicagoans — or 67.7 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 75.7 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.

The numbers:

• Since Wednesday, 116 Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19.

• At least 31,795 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 3,930 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 5,419 cases since Wednesday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 2,987,502.

• Since Wednesday, 181,053 tests were reported statewide. In all, 52,553,574 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 4.5 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 4.9 percent Wednesday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 5.8 percent. It was at 6.5 percent Wednesday.

• As of Wednesday night, 432 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 238 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, 13 deaths were reported since Wednesday. There have been at least 7,101 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of more than nine people dying per day, down 47 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago has had 712 confirmed cases reported since Wednesday. It’s had a total of 551,807 confirmed cases. An average of 532 confirmed cases are being reported per day, down 46 percent from a week ago.

• Testing in Chicago is down 17 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 2.8 percent, down from 4.2 percent a week ago.

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