As state and city officials provide more insight into the future of coronavirus-related mandates amid decreasing metrics, when will COVID restrictions be lifted both across Illinois and in Chicago?
While the state of Illinois plans to remove its indoor mask mandates in the coming weeks, Chicago health officials have begun to weigh in on when the city will follow suit.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that the state plans to end its mask mandate for most indoor spaces by Feb. 28, with schools and health care facilities following suit at a later date.
In an email following the announcement, city officials said that they anticipate being in a similar position to remove their mask mandate by the end of the month.
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"We are pleased with the progress that the city is making coming out of the omicron surge, and are encouraged by the state's reported plan to lift its mask mandate later this month," officials said. "If we as a city continue to see declines in these leading COVID metrics, we too should be in a position to lift restrictions at that time."
On Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office confirmed that the vaccine mandate, which has been in effect in Chicago since the beginning of the year, would also end if COVID metrics keep falling.
In a press conference last week, Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said that she could see a scenario where the city drops the vaccine requirement in the near future.
“If we continue to see drops (in COVID metrics) like we’ve been dropping, it would not be that long from now, I would think,” Arwady said in a Feb. 3 press conference.
Similar to the state, Chicago officials have said that it will align with Pritzker in lifting COVID requirements if its numbers also continue in their current downward trajectory.
"CDPH is watching four primary community transmission and risk metrics, and when 3 of the 4 reach 'Lower Transmission Risk' and stay there for one full incubation period (two weeks), we would begin to lift restrictions," the city's health department said in a statement.
Illinois is currently averaging about 2,500 COVID hospitalizations, marking a 66% drop from the nearly 7,300 seen during the peak of the omicron surge last month. The number of daily patients requiring ICU care has also dropped 63% in that time and 20% of state ICU beds are now available, marking an increase from the 8% reported four weeks earlier, the governor said.
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.
While it’s unclear when Chicago will roll its mitigations back, the governor said that cities and businesses will be permitted to keep any mandates in place that they wish.
“Many local jurisdictions, businesses and organizations have their own mask requirements and other mitigations that must be respected,” he said. “Doing what is 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, just to name a few examples, protecting your patrons and visitors is no doubt a high priority.”
Chicago's health department also noted that many may continue to wear or require them.
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.
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
The lifting of the mandate will also not apply to schools, Pritzker said. The governor noted that plans for school masking requirements are expected to be announced "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," he said.