Chicago may or may not join Illinois in lifting its mask mandate at the end of the month, the city's top doctor said Tuesday, declining to offer a specific date but instead saying she is relying on a set of metrics to determine when restrictions can be lifted.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city is watching four metrics, three of which need to drop to "lower transmission risk" for the city to move forward with lifting restrictions.
"I want people to understand that we're not just choosing a date, we're going based on when we're there," Arwady said while giving a COVID update for the city. "But as I said... if the difference is a few days to help not have people be confused and have things be straightforward, my expectation is we would be able to go along with [the state]. So I think next week, when we stand up and we look at where things are, we'll be able to give a more definitive answer around that."
The four metrics include test positivity, hospital beds occupied by COVID patients, ICU beds occupied by COVID patients and daily COVID cases. The seven-day rolling averages for each category need to be at a "low transmission" level, which is set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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"These are not pulled out of the air, made up," Arwady said. "They have to do with the risk that you are going to be exposed to somebody with COVID-19 right now in the city of Chicago. So we are making great progress, but COVID is not over... And so I want people to understand that when we're talking about lifting masks, when we're talking about lifting mitigations, it's about getting down to a point where the risk of being exposed to somebody who currently has COVID-19 and could be spreading COVID-19 is relatively low."
On Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city is “not there yet” when speaking on plans to eliminate the city's mask mandate, and is closely monitoring statistics to determine when to remove mitigations.
Currently, Chicago has a mask mandate in place for indoor settings, along with a requirement that patrons in specific indoor establishments show a proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to gain entry.
City officials say that once three of the preceding four metrics hit the “lower transmission” level, that will start a two-week clock, known as an “incubation cycle.”
After those two weeks, if the numbers remain within the “lower transmission” category, then officials would move to remove mitigations that are in place.
But Arwady noted that the full two-week period may not be reached before the lifting begins.
"So three of the four metrics is a definite. I would prefer to see those be there for a full incubation period, but I also know that it can be confusing if there's a difference of a few days, for example," she said. "And so we're going to see where we are next week and and make a decision and sort of either way there. If we are not able to move on the 28th, I think would probably be not very long after that. But if it's the difference of just a few days I don't think It's worth the potential confusion to the public. But if we're talking about a week difference, for example, we might extend it. We've got to hit the data point."