As Chicago Moves Into Heightened COVID Risk, When Could a Mask Mandate Return?

As of Friday, nearly all of the Chicago area was experiencing medium risk levels for the virus

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Chicago moved from "low" to "medium" risk for COVID-19 transmission on Friday, so when could health officials reinstate restrictions like the mask mandate?

The Chicago Department of Public Health is now "strongly recommending" that people wear a mask in public, indoor spaces due to the increase in cases, but this doesn't mean a face covering requirement is in place.

On Friday, CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said a citywide mandate is not in place and will not be reinstated unless Chicago moves from medium to high risk level. She reminded, however, that people can spread COVID two days before developing symptoms, so masking is a strong form of protection at this time.

“With the way the current COVID variants are behaving, those are measures we would consider if we reached the High COVID-19 community level—which we aren’t close to reaching in Chicago right now. But we obviously don’t want to get there, and exercising some more caution now will help us keep COVID in control in Chicago," Arwady said.

Chicago is newly at the medium risk level, though Arwady said health officials have been expecting the city to reach this point "for some time now."

“It’s not a cause for alarm, since most cases right now are mild and thankfully our COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths remain at or near all-time pandemic lows in Chicago," Arwady said. "But it is reason for more caution, and for more care with masking, since more people in Chicago are infected with COVID right now."

Chicagoans are also encouraged to stay up-to-date on vaccinations and booster shots, as well as test for the virus should any symptoms appear.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines COVID Community Levels as low, medium and high, based on cases, hospitalizations and hospital capacity within the past week.

Over the last seven days, Cook County and Chicago combined recorded 259 COVID cases per 100,000 residents, which caused the area to move over the 200-case threshold for medium risk level.

To reach a high transmission level, however, Chicago-area hospitalizations would need to increase, CDPH noted. Health officials said there is "little short-term risk" of reaching a high level and that new mandates are not imminent.

As of Friday, nearly all of the Chicago area was experiencing medium risk levels for the virus, according to the CDC.

As of Friday, Cook, Kane, McHenry, Lake, DuPage, DeKalb, Kendall and Will counties all were listed under the CDC's "medium community" alert level, the second-highest level on the CDC's scale. At least six other counties in the state - including McLean, Logan, Sangamon, Douglas, Champaign and Winnebago counties - are also at this level.

Last week, only five counties were at the medium community level.

Here's what the CDC recommends for counties under a medium alert level:

As of Friday, no communities were said to be experiencing high transmission in Illinois, though several counties in the Northeast had reached that designation.

Counties that do reach a high community level are urged to reinstate mask-wearing for all individuals indoors regardless of vaccination status and to consider avoiding non-essential indoor activities.

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