NOTE: Watch the governor's 2 p.m. presser on the mask mandate here or in the player above.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker revealed Wednesday that he hopes to lift the indoor mask mandate for the state by the end of this month.
Speaking during an unrelated press conference, the governor revealed he aims to lift the mandate for the state, with certain exceptions, by Feb. 28.
"My intention is as we've seen these numbers peak at about 7,400 hospitalizations, and heading downward significantly - we're now I think under 2,500 hospitalizations, so that's almost a third of where we were at the peak and heading even further downward - to lift the mask mandate in the indoor locations by Feb. 28," the governor said. "And that... of course, we still have the sensitive locations of K-12 schools, where we have lots of people who are, you know, joined together in smaller spaces, thousands of people interacting in one location at a time. And so that's something that will come weeks hence. But very importantly, things are getting better across the state of Illinois."
Pritzker is expected to make a wider announcement about the mask mandate during a 2 p.m. press conference. (Watch live here)
Sources told NBC 5's Mary Ann Ahern the governor is expected to then unveil his full plan to drop the state’s indoor mask mandate over the course of several weeks.
According to sources with knowledge of the announcement, the governor will announce a phased-plan to drop the indoor mask mandate in most settings, but that plan will not include a repeal of the mask mandate in public schools.
At one point, the state was averaging more than 32,000 cases per day because of the omicron COVID variant. In less than a month, that number has plummeted to an average of 5,825 cases per day, a level not seen since the omicron surge began.
The governor said that hospitalization reductions would be key to removing the mandate, and after peaking at more than 7,300 COVID hospitalizations, there are now fewer than 3,000 patients currently COVID-positive in Illinois hospitals.
Sources tell NBC 5 that Pritzker is hoping to give schools more time before removing their mask mandates.
That development comes as Pritzker continues to fight a legal challenge to his mask mandate for Illinois schools. A temporary restraining order was issued last week by a judge in Sangamon County that prohibited certain school districts from enforcing the requirement.
Pritzker said that he planned to appeal the ruling, calling it “out of step with the vast majority of legal analysis.”