Chicago Department of Public Health

Chicago's Top Doc Says City is Taking Patient Approach to Mask, Vaccine Mandates as Cases Dip

Arwady says that removing the mandates too soon could potentially lead to a rebound in COVID cases and hospitalizations

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With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continuing a rapid decline after a peak in the omicron variant, the commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Public Health says that she hopes that mask and vaccine mandates could be lifted, but cautioned that doing so too early would set back efforts to combat the virus.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Dr. Allison Arwady said that the city has seen its positivity rate and hospitalizations drop significantly in recent weeks, and that she is heartened by the emerging data.

“Things are looking quite good,” she said.

According to Arwady, the city’s positivity rate on COVID tests is now down to 4.5%, the lowest of any of Illinois’ 11 health care regions. On New Year’s Eve, that positivity rate peaked at 20.5%.

Even still, Arwady says that lifting the mask and vaccine mandates in the city is something that she wants to do, but also wants to exercise patience in doing because of fears of a rebound in the number of cases with so many people still gathering indoors.

“Arwady said “Things are looking quite good.”    She did not offer an exact date when that will happen.    

Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady discussed what to know about various mask options—cloth, surgical, KN95, and N95— and which mask you should be wearing.

 “I want to be able to lift this, I want to be able to lift it though at a time that we’re confident that it won’t lead to a major rebound,” Arwady said.  

Chicago has had a mask mandate for indoor spaces in place since the fall, and in the new year instituted a requirement for attendees of events in indoor venues, as well as customers at certain institutions like restaurants and museums, to show a proof of COVID vaccination.

The city also provided updates on its vaccination mandate for employees, with Arwady announcing that nearly 84% of all city employees are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Arwady did say that those individuals who have not gotten their shots, and who have not received a medical or religious exemption, could potentially face termination or other discipline.

“At this point, people have really run out of time,” she said.

The next question for city employees will be whether they’ll be required to receive booster doses of the COVID vaccine. Chicago Public Schools has asked employees to submit information regarding their booster status by March 1, but says that they have not officially mandated receiving the shots at this time.

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