mask mandate

California to End Indoor Mask Mandate: When Illinois Could Follow Suit

Gov. J.B. Pritzker explained he is looking at hospitalization numbers to determine when the mandate should be lifted

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California will end its indoor masking requirement for vaccinated people next week, state health officials announced Monday amid rapidly falling coronavirus cases.

After Feb. 15, unvaccinated people still will be required to be masked indoors. Everyone — vaccinated or not — will have to wear masks in higher-risk areas like public transit and nursing homes and other congregate living facilities, officials said. 

Now that California has decided to lift its mandate, when will Illinois do so?

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday, before California's announcement, that COVID-19 metrics are headed in the "right direction," and he will issue additional guidance in the coming days.

"I think we all want to be able to remove masks, also our job is to keep everybody healthy and make sure that we're doing the right thing," the governor said, adding he is constantly working with doctors and epidemiologists to determine when masks can be removed safely.

Speaking at a news conference, the governor revealed he and health officials are specifically looking at hospitalization numbers to determine when the mandate should be rolled back.

Hospitalizations surpassed record levels in mid-January when, at one point, only 9% of the state's intensive care unit beds were open. As of Monday, 20% of the state's 2,963 ICU beds were available, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data.

However, some are concerned about a possible rise in COVID cases in the future.

If the state decides to lift the mask mandate, it may be reinstated again - as was the case in August following soaring metrics caused by the delta variant.

"Even when if we remove the requirement that people wear masks in various settings, there may come a time in the future when we would want people to put their mask back on," Pritzker said.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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