When will Chicago be able to forgo face coverings throughout the city? Here's what the health department's top doctor says.
"We've been talking with the state about this," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. "If we could get back under 200 cases per day, the masks would come off. No question about it."
Speaking to reporters in a press conference Tuesday, Arwady said the city's 200 cases per day marking has been a threshold set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Chicago is "sticking to it."
"While we are on the increase, it is a time I am worried about pulling back on masks," Arwady added.
According to the latest data, the city has seen a 10% increase in COVID cases over the last week, jumping from 403 to 445 average daily cases. Average daily deaths related to COVID, as well as Chicago's positivity rate, have also increased over the last seven days.
Arwady noted that once children ages 5 to 11 have had an opportunity to be fully vaccinated and those rates increase throughout the city, then there could be a discussion about removing a mask mandate for people vaccinated against the virus.
I know people are tired of masks -- they're not going to be here forever," Arwady said. "But if they are the difference between us being able to stay open and to, frankly, continue to save lives, particularly as we are working to get these 5 to 11-year-olds [vaccinated], I think that's going to be a primary focus."
"The No. 1 rule of epidemiology is to respect the curve," she added. "When the curve is going up, it's likely to continue to increase and it's not the best moment to pull back on restrictions."
Illinois' latest indoor mask mandate remains in effect, meaning everyone over the age of 2 must wear a mask in indoor settings, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said there are a mix of things he's looking at to determine the mandate's status, especially coronavirus hospitalization numbers and vaccination numbers.
"What we're trying to evaluate is: are the hospitalization numbers, for example, increasing, decreasing, staying the same?" Pritzker said. "We want them to decrease. They're not currently, just to be clear."
Last week, the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago experienced an over 20% increase in coronavirus cases within a seven-day span, according to the latest data, after seeing metrics decrease for the past several months.
The Illinois Department of Public Health recorded a 29% increase in cases from last Friday, with numbers jumping from 17,462 to 22,600 cases in one week.
If one goes back to Oct. 24, when the state hit a low watermark in new cases, the number of new cases of the virus has increased by 27.7%, from 2,076 new cases per day.
Pritzker previously said he was hopeful mask mandates would be lifted in time for the upcoming holidays, but health officials have expressed concerns with lifting mask mandates heading into colder months.
Arwady said last month that masking will be even more important during the colder months not just because of COVID.
"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."