Illinois will lift its indoor mask mandate beginning in late February, with the exception of schools, should COVID-19 metrics continue to decline, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday.
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."
Read his full remarks below:
Good afternoon everyone. I’m here with Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike to provide an important update on Illinois’ progress in protecting our hospital bed availability, supporting our healthcare workers, and keeping schools and businesses open.
In many ways the last five months have been some of the most frustrating days of the pandemic – for healthcare professionals, for working parents, for vaccinated residents, and for all Illinoisans, who never asked for and never deserved the challenges of the present moment.
But throughout every minute of this deadly global pandemic, the people of this state have demonstrated a willingness to look out for one another and to rise above the loud minority of voices who have used this emergency to naysay, bicker, polarize and divide.
Last August, in the face of a growing threat from the Delta variant, most Illinoisans put their masks back on in response – and as a result, we ended 2021 with fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations per capita than anywhere else in the Midwest.
More Illinoisans have gotten a COVID-19 shot than anywhere else in the Midwest. More of our kids are fully vaccinated than anywhere in the region. Nearly 80 percent of our eligible seniors are boosted.
Throughout this pandemic, we’ve deployed the tools available to us as needed. We’ve used masks more when infections are raging and hospitals are stretched thin. We’ve used masks less when spread is diminished and hospitals have enough bandwidth. Our approach has saved lives and kept our economy open and growing.
Today, three weeks past the peak and thanks to the precautions our residents have taken, from Chicago to Carbondale, the heightened emergency of omicron has been consistently subsiding. We are now seeing the fastest rate of decline in our COVID-19 hospitalization metrics since the pandemic began.
Our daily total of COVID patients in the hospital has fallen from over 7,300 to about 2,500 today – a 66 percent drop. The daily total of COVID patients requiring ICU care has also seen a 63 percent drop. We now have 20% of our ICU beds available statewide; up from a low of under 8% just 4 weeks ago.
And as a result of them and the tremendous commitment of our state’s residents, we are on track to come out on the other side of this latest COVID storm in better shape than the doctors expected.
If these trends continue — and we expect them to —then on Monday, February 28th, we will lift the indoor mask requirement for the State of Illinois.
I want to be clear: Many local jurisdictions, businesses and organizations have their own mask requirements and other mitigations that must be respected. 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.
The lifting of the state mask requirement should not invite people not wearing masks to dissuade those who choose to wear masks. Remember that whether we remove masks or not, COVID-19 has not gone away. There are so many Illinoisans who need to protect themselves from the virus more than others. And many more of us who gladly put on our masks not so much for ourselves, but for our elderly neighbor. For our immunocompromised aunt. For the toddlers for whom there is not yet a vaccine. For adults who are medically unable to be vaccinated. For the person in the room whose circumstance they don’t know.
Compassion and kindness toward each other is the hallmark of being an Illinoisan. It’s who we are. And whether you’re wearing a mask or not, everyone deserves to protect themselves and their communities in whatever way they need to.
Masks or not, the best way to stay safe is to get boosted if you’ve been already vaccinated, or get your first or second shot if you haven’t yet. Right now 2.9 million Illinoisans are eligible to get a booster shot but haven’t gotten around to it. If that’s someone you know, reach out and encourage them to take that next step. And of course, it’s never too late to start the vaccine conversation with someone you love. Yesterday, approximately 7,000 Illinoisans got the COVID-19 vaccine for the very first time. Find a vaccine location near you at vaccines.gov.
I also want to take a moment to address our schools. In-person learning in a healthy environment is what’s best for our children. 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.
The protocols and tools we’ve been using thus far have worked to keep schools open: masks, testing, and vaccines.
Remember that our goal is to maintain a healthy in-person learning for kids, teachers, and staff and to protect all the parents and grandparents who interact with our schools — and to avoid adaptive pauses and remote learning. Schools are open and should remain open. Protecting everyone in a school community, their education and their health, is our highest priority. In the coming weeks, it’s my hope and expectation that we will continue making progress to a place where we can remove school masking requirements and keep kids in school.