Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased restrictions surrounding masks, Chicago Public Schools will keep face coverings in schools, district officials announced Friday.
In a letter to parents and students, CPS said will continue to require masks and other COVID requirements in the classroom "to maintain health and safety measures."
"We all look forward to the day when masks are no longer necessary in schools, and we plan to work with our labor and public health partners on the best way to preserve a safe learning environment for all. For now, though, we need to remember that school buildings are not like other indoor settings," CPS said in a letter.
New guidance released Friday from the CDC is still advising people, including schoolchildren, to wear masks where the risk of COVID is high. That's the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans live.
Friday evening, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that the state of Illinois will remove the school mask mandate, effective Monday, noting that the face covering requirement is only needed in areas of "high transmission" per the CDC.
"We will recommend that all that all school districts follow the CDC guidance and will update our existing guidance in coming days," the governor said in a statement.
According to the guidance, most Americans can take a break from wearing masks indoors, based on declining COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Earlier this week, CPS released a statement saying the mask requirements are being kept in place to help “preserve in-person teaching,” and to keep students and educators safe.
“We have made great progress in recent weeks against this virus, and we do not want to jeopardize that progress by moving too quickly,” a spokesperson said. “We look forward to the day when we can be mask-optional at CPS, but we still need to get more students vaccinated across our district, and we still need to work with our public health and labor partners on the best way to preserve a safe in-person learning environment for all.”
According to CPS officials, nearly 53% of students age 12 and older are now fully-vaccinated against COVID, while nearly 1-in-3 students under the age of 12 has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
More than 91% of teachers are fully vaccinated, according to officials.
In a press release Tuesday, the Chicago Teachers Union praised the decision to keep mask mandates in place.
“We’re glad that CPS will continue to honor the safety agreement that our members sacrificed four days of pay for last month,” the statement read. “This agreement today provides Chicago’s public school communities with the legal right to guarantee safety, despite a right-wing legal attack to remove public health protections.”
The union said that it will continue to push for more vaccination clinics for students and for educators, and that it agrees with the governor that COVID case rates need to continue to decline before mask-optional policies are enacted in Chicago schools.
The news of the mitigation rollback comes as many Illinois school districts move to mask-optional rules amid an ongoing legal fight over whether the state has the legal authority to require facial coverings in schools. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has appealed recent rulings that say he does not have the authority to issue those mandates, and is aiming to keep requirements in place even as the state moves away from required masking.
On Feb. 28, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois will eliminate requirements for patrons in indoor venues to wear masks. The city will also move away from its requirement that patrons in those establishments furnish a proof-of-vaccination at the door, according to officials.