Cook County updated its guidance on masking and other COVID-19 precautions Friday, recommending everyone wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, as health officials say the region is seeing "substantial" community transmission.
The Cook County Department of Public Health issued new policies one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed the county into the "substantial" transmission category, triggering the CDC's recommendation to resume indoor masking under its new guidance released Tuesday.
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.
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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.
Chicago's top doctor said Thursday that the city could move into the "substantial" transmission category "very shortly," noting that an average of 200 new cases per day would signal that shift.
Chicago was averaging 192 new COVID-19 cases per day as of Friday, according to city data. That metric was up from 185 the day before, has grown by 64% in the past week and is nearly six times what it was in late June before cases began to climb again.
"Sitting at 185 average cases per day and increasing, I do anticipate we will be moving very shortly into that substantial risk category," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said in a Facebook Live Thursday.
Chicago could make formal announcements about further COVID precautions next week, Arwady continued, blaming the delta variant for the increased number of cases in Chicago and across Illinois.
More than 97% of people contracting COVID from the delta variant are unvaccinated, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday as she encouraged residents to get the vaccine."Without that protection, you're playing Russian roulette," Lightfoot said. "This variant is real. It is deadly."
The Illinois Department of Public Health said Tuesday that it is "fully adopting" the CDC's updated guidance and will follow its recommendations for universal masking in schools.
"While data continues to show the effectiveness of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the U.S., including against the Delta variant, we are still seeing the virus rapidly spread among the unvaccinated," IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement, noting that COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to increase, especially among those who are unvaccinated against the virus.
"The risk is greater for everyone if we do not stop the ongoing spread of the virus and the Delta variant," Ezike said. "We know masking can help prevent transmission of COVID-19 and its variants. Until more people are vaccinated, we join CDC in recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial and high transmissions, and in K-12 schools."
IDPH pointed to the CDC's data on the delta variant showing the variant is considerably more contagious than other strains and spreads more than twice as easily from person to person.
Ezike and IDPH continued to encourage Illinois residents to get vaccinated.
"According to CDC, the Delta variant is causing some vaccine breakthrough infections, but even so, most breakthrough infections are mild, and the vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death," IDPH said.