Illinois is expected to end its indoor mask mandate early next week, should COVID-19 metrics continue to decline statewide.
When will the mandate be lifted, where will you still need a mask and is the same timeline expected in Chicago?
Here's what we know so far:
When will the mask mandate be lifted in Illinois?
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Gov. J.B. Pritzker revealed plans Wednesday to lift Illinois' indoor mask mandate, with the exception of in schools, by Feb. 28 if state COVID metrics continue to decline.
Noting that the state is "seeing the fastest rate of decline in our COVID-19 hospitalization metrics since the pandemic began," Pritzker said if trends continue as expected, "then on Monday, Feb. 28, we will lift the indoor mask requirement for the State of Illinois."
What still needs to happen for the mask mandate to be lifted?
The governor noted that metrics must continue to decline in the weeks leading up to Feb. 28.
As of Thursday, coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been on a generally downward trend, based on data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
What about Chicago?
In line with the state of Illinois, Chicago will lift its indoor mask mandate early next week in certain public locations, as long as coronavirus metrics continue on a downward trend, officials announced earlier this week.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a press conference that the mask mandate, as well as the city's vaccine requirement, will end Feb. 28 at a number of spots across the city, citing a drop in key COVID metrics.
In Chicago, masks will continue to be required in health care settings, on public transit and in other congregate settings, per federal mandates and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What are the state's and city's current metrics?
Illinois is currently averaging about 1,183 COVID hospitalizations, and 88 people hospitalized with COVID-like symptoms. According to the most recent data, 21% of ICU beds are available statewide.
At one point, the state was averaging more than 32,000 cases per day because of the omicron COVID variant. As of Thursday, Illinois saw 1,979 new COVID cases in the last 24 hours -- one of the lowest levels seen since the omicron surge began.
The governor said that hospitalization reductions would be key to removing the mandate.
As of Tuesday in Chicago, the coronavirus metrics included:
According to data from the Chicago Department of Public Health, the city has seen drops in cases, hospitalizations, death and positivity rates over the past week.
Are there still locations that will require masks?
There is one important caveat to the state's plan.
"I want to be clear: Many local jurisdictions, businesses and organizations have their own mask requirements and other mitigations that must be respected," Pritzker said. "Having stricter mitigations than the state requirements is something that must be adhered to. Doing what’s right in your private business or for your local communities is encouraged. Whether you’re a business, a township, a venue, a place of worship or a city – to name just a few examples – protecting your patrons and visitors is no doubt a high priority. Masks continue to be a very effective way to keep your establishment from experiencing an outbreak or spreading the disease."
Masks will also still be required under certain federal guidelines.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike reminded residents that masks remain necessary in certain places and situations, including for public transportation, inside federal buildings and in parts of long-term care facilities.
"While masks will no longer be required and most indoor locations beginning Monday, Feb. 28 I want to be clear that they are still highly recommended," she said.
According to the governor's office, Illinois will continue to require masks in the following settings:
- Healthcare Settings: Continue mask requirement
- Long Term Care Facilities: Continue mask requirement
- Congregate Settings (prisons, shelters, etc.): Continue mask requirement
- Transportation: Follow federal guidelines
- Daycare: Follow Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) guidelines
What about schools?
Last week, an Illinois appellate court rejected Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s appeal of a lower court's ruling against a mask mandate in schools, writing the request is “moot” because the governor’s emergency COVID rules already expired.
In their decision, the appellate court justices wrote there is no “actual controversy” to decide.
“Because the emergency rules voided by the TRO are no longer in effect, a controversy regarding the application of those rules no longer exists. Thus, the matter is moot,” the justices wrote.
The justices also wrote, “We note the language of the TRO in no way restrains school districts from acting independently from the executive orders or the IDPH in creating provisions addressing COVID-19.”
The court's ruling means that the decision of whether or not to require masks and implement individual COVID requirements is up to individual school districts.
The lifting of the mandate will also not apply to schools, Pritzker said.
"School outbreaks impact hundreds, even thousands of people across a community – and there are a whole lot more infections when districts are maskless. Schools are unlike most other environments — there are far lower vaccination rates for school-aged children than adults, higher exposure daily to younger children who aren’t yet vaccine-eligible, and more difficulty maintaining distance in hallways and gyms. The equation for schools just looks different right now than it does for the general population. Schools need more time – for community infection rates to drop, for our youngest learners to become vaccine eligible, and for more parents to get their kids vaccinated."
Following the court decision, Chicago Public Schools said that it will keep its requirements in place for at least the time-being.
According to a statement from CPS, the requirements are being kept in place to help “preserve in-person teaching,” and to keep students and educators safe.
Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that all of its schools that were still under a mask mandate will instead switch to a mask-optional set of mitigations beginning on Monday.
According to a letter to parents, the Archdiocese says that its schools in Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park will be mask-optional for teachers and students beginning on Feb. 28, the same day that the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago will remove their mask mandates in indoor spaces.