As COVID-19 cases continue to increase across Illinois, have health officials enacted a mask mandate?
Although Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has not ordered a statewide mask mandate as of Tuesday, several counties across the Chicago area have begun recommending face coverings be worn while indoors.
Both DuPage and Cook counties updated their guidance on masking and other COVID precautions last week, recommending everyone wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, as the regions see "substantial" community transmission.
The Chicago Department of Public Health also recommended last week that all vaccinated people wear a face covering while indoors, citing a need to lessen COVID spread from the delta variant.
The area's new recommendations mirror the guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, which call for all individuals, regardless of whether they are vaccinated against COVID or not, to wear masks in areas where there is “substantial” or “high” levels of transmission.
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.
Pritzker issued an order last week requiring that everyone who enters a state building wear a face mask regardless of vaccination status.
According to the latest guidance, state employees must wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth while in a workplace or performing work duties in indoor settings outside of their residence, unless a medical condition prevents them from doing so. Employees are also advised to maintain physical distance of at least six feet "at all times or as much as reasonably possible."
CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said a mask mandate is "under discussion" for Chicago, but will not happen where the city's COVID-19 data is as of Tuesday.
"We wouldn't even consider a mandate unless we moved into at least that 'high risk' territory," Arwady said. "We have not made a formal decision."
As of Tuesday, the average daily number of new cases in Chicago is up to 234 per day - a 40% increase over the previous week.
That figure is also nearly seven times the low of 34 that the city saw in late June but remains significantly lower than the more than 700 cases per day the city was seeing earlier this year and last, before vaccines were widely available.
Hospitalizations in Chicago are up 15% and deaths are up 60% from last week, per the city's data. The positivity rate in testing is up to 3.3% as of Tuesday, an increase from 2.6% last week, which was up from 1.5% the week before and 1% three weeks prior.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses two measures to group 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.
Arwady noted on Sunday, however, that there are "no plans to shut down" Chicago again despite the new mask recommendations.
“In Chicago, we can be open and be careful,” Arwady said at a news conference Sunday. “We have no current plans to shut down Chicago again.”
Arwady and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Sunday that they have no plans to implement more regulations and mitigations against COVID, and are instead leaning on the new CDC guidance on masking.
“Being careful means getting vaccinated. When you get vaccinated, first and foremost you are protecting yourself,” Arwady said. “When our numbers are higher, you put on a mask. When you put on a mask, you predominantly are protecting others. These two things working together help us to be careful as a city, and to stay open.”
Arwady says that the new mask guidance is not a “forever” thing, and that she knows it feels like a step backward to wear masks again after mandates were lifted, but that it is the right thing to do to protect children and other unvaccinated individuals.
“I know it’s hard, especially for people who are vaccinated, to feel like they have to put a mask on. It feels like we’re taking a step backwards, but when you do that, you help protect people who have not yet been vaccinated,” she said. “It is not forever that we are making this mask recommendation for. It helps protect you, your family, and all of Chicago.”
Lightfoot has continued to push for individuals to get vaccinated, saying that it is the surest path toward a return to normalcy in the city.
“This is entirely preventable,” she said. “We have the tools we need. We need people to mask up and vaccinate. As we’ve seen, not only in Chicago but across the world and across the country, the delta variant is real. It is vicious, and attacks those who are not vaccinated.”
Officials are urging residents to set up at-home appointments for COVID vaccines, which are free and available to all residents who are eligible to receive the treatment.