Chicago's Top Doc Says Mask Mandate Will Stay in Place For ‘Next Few Weeks at Least'

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Chicago's mask mandate is here to stay for at least the next few weeks, according to the commissioner of the city's health department, Dr. Allison Arwady.

"We remain in a substantial transmission standpoint from the CDC, and even if we continue to see progress at the rate we've been seeing it, I expect that would take probably at least another couple of weeks," Arwady said. "My big question is what's happening between now and Thanksgiving, honestly."

Arwady said masking will remain even more important heading into the colder months.

"That's when we usually start to see respiratory viruses like flu really take off and we'll have a better sense," Arwady said. "My concern is I don't want to say hooray, let's take the mask off, two weeks later we have to put them back on."

Arwady said she plans to use the same metrics the city used to reinstate the mask mandate when determine if and when to remove it.

"When Chicago gets down out of substantial transmission for COVID, which for us means you're within 200 cases a day, if we can get there, we can, you know, stay there for an incubation period, we'll drop the requirement," she said. "Because I think it's important to stick to the things that we say."

As of Monday, Chicago was seeing an average of 245 new coronavirus cases per day, along with 21 hospitalizations and just over three deaths. The city's positivity rate currently sits at 2 percent.

Arwady's comments echo those made by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Last week, Pritzker said it remains too early to give an indication of when he might lift Illinois' indoor mask requirement, even as state COVID-19 metrics continue to dip.

Though the state's test positivity rate is down to 2.5%, Pritzker said health officials must consider all metrics, in addition to other factors.

Pritzker cited rising cases in other states, including nearby Minnesota and Michigan, as well as current hospitalizations here in Illinois, where 1,500 people are in the hospital with coronavirus.

"If you go look at the hospitalizations -- the new hospitalizations, as well as the ones that are, you know, existing in total -- they are not dropping at the rate that they were dropping even a couple of weeks ago," Pritzker said Thursday at an unrelated news conference while answering reporter questions. "So I'm concerned about that."

Still, Pritzker said he is optimistic.

"Generally speaking, things are better than they were a couple of weeks ago," Pritzker said. "So I'm hopeful."

The governor did not mention a potential timeline for more info on when Illinois' indoor mask mandate might be lifted.

Earlier this month Pritzker said the state's coronavirus metrics must be on a "good downward trajectory" before he'll decide whether to rescind the mask mandate that was reinstated in late August due to a rapid rise in cases.

Addressing reporters at the time, Pritzker pointed to progress in the declining number of new hospitalizations, but said the number of existing patients hospitalized with COVID-19 remains steady.

"I would remind you that for example in Minnesota," Pritzker said Thursday. "Their hospitalizations have gone way up, their hospitals are full. You see the rest of the country coming down, and yet Minnesota and Michigan very relatively nearby to us, have been rising. So we want to be very careful to take all of these things in."

In late August, Illinois experienced a rapid surge in COVID cases with the most cases reported in a single day since January at the time. Pritzker reissued the state's mask mandate, saying then Illinois was "running out of time as our hospitals run out of beds." Weeks later, the worrisome scenario became reality in southern Illinois as zero of 88 staffed intensive care units beds were said to be available.

Improvements in the daily case rate have been reported in weeks. On Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported the state’s seven-day positivity rate on all tests dropped to 2.5% from 2.6% last week. The rolling average seven-day positivity rate for cases as a percentage of total tests also dropped to 2.0% from 2.1% last week.

As of midnight Thursday, 1,500 patients were hospitalized due to COVID in the state. Of those patients, 341 are in ICU beds, and 172 are on ventilators.

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