Chicago health officials now recommend all residents over the age of 2 wear masks in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status, the department announced Friday.
The Chicago Department of Public Health noted that wearing a face covering remains optional in outdoor settings "where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower."
“We are taking this step to prevent further spread of the very contagious Delta variant and to protect public health,” said CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. “This isn’t forever, but it is necessary to help decrease the risk for all Chicagoans right now.”
CDPH recommended businesses, employers and event organizers require masking in all indoor public settings, as well. Face coverings remain optional in outdoor settings, but the recommendation to social distance remains.
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Chicago Public Schools announced a similar masking policy for all teachers, staff, students and visitors, asking that face coverings be worn while inside academic buildings.
Along with suburban Cook County, Chicago is considered an area of "substantial" COVID transmission by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a move that triggered federal recommendation to resume indoor masking under its new guidance released Tuesday.
The CDC updated its guidance to recommend that fully vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor settings again in areas of the U.S. that are seeing "substantial" or "high" transmission of COVID-19. Illinois' health department later said it would align with the CDC guidance.
Cook County also updated its guidance on masking and other COVID-19 precautions Friday, recommending everyone wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
In alignment with the CDC, CCDPH said it "strongly recommends" the following:
- Individuals over 2 years of age should wear a mask in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.
- Fully-vaccinated people who have been exposed to someone who has suspected or confirmed COVID should be tested 3-5 days following the exposure and wear a mask indoors as above · Fully-vaccinated people may wish to mask outdoor in crowded settings. CCDPH fully endorses this action.
- Guidance has not changed for unvaccinated individuals: masks should be worn indoors and in crowded outdoor settings, regardless of the community transmission level.
CCDPH said it also continues to recommend its previous guidance that all people in school settings - teachers, staff, students, and visitors - should wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status and community transmission level.
The department is also encouraging people to mask indoors or in crowded outdoor settings regardless of community transmission.
Masks are still required for everyone older than 2 on public transportation or at any indoor transportation hub, as well as in health care and long-term care settings, CCDPH said.
"You might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission if you have a weakened immune system or if, because of your age or an underlying medical condition, you are at increased risk for severe disease, or if a member of your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated," CCDPH added.
The updated guidance came one day after the CDC placed Cook County in the category of seeing "substantial" community transmission of COVID-19. Other Chicago-area counties in that same category include: Will, DuPage, Kendall, McHenry, Boone, Winnebago, DeKalb, LaSalle and Grundy.
The CDC updated its guidance Tuesday to recommend that fully vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor settings again in areas of the U.S. that are seeing "substantial" or "high" transmission of COVID-19.
The agency uses two measures to group U.S. counties into the four levels of community transmission: the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and the percent of COVID-19 tests that are positive over the past week.
If a county has reported 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period or has a positivity rate of 8% to 10%, it falls into the "substantial transmission" tier, while those reporting 100 cases or more per 100,000 or have a positivity rate of at least 10% are labeled as "high transmission." Those are the two groups for which the CDC recommends mask-wearing.
The new guidance marked a reversal from earlier recommendations that said fully vaccinated people could remove masks in most settings.
Many of Illinois' counties fall into either "substantial," labeled in orange, or "high" transmission, labeled in red. Some counties - mostly concentrated in the northern and central regions of the state - are seeing "moderate" transmission, labeled in yellow, while just two are colored blue for "low" transmission, with indoor masking recommendations not applying to those two categories.