Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has promised to remove the state's mask mandate "as soon as we possibly can," while emphasizing the health of residents as an utmost priority.
Pritzker reinstated the state's mask mandate in August amid the surging delta variant and in recent days has discussed the possibility of dropping the requirement amid an improvement in COVID-related numbers.
At a press conference Monday, Pritzker revealed which metric he is looking at to decide whether to roll back the mask mandate - hospitalizations.
As hospitalizations are "falling significantly," Pritzker said he is consulting with Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike and state epidemiologists to determine when and how the mandate should be lifted.
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"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 stated.
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 IDPH data.
While case numbers and hospitalizations have improved, concerns remain about another possible COVID surge in the future.
Pritzker pointed to the COVID-19 situation this past summer when the state removed its mask requirement following drops in hospitalizations and other COVID metrics. The numbers began to rise weeks later, leading Illinois to reimplement its mask mandate in August.
If the state decides to lift the mask requirement, it may be reinstated again - if necessary.
"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," the governor stated Monday.
Pritzker plans to provide additional guidance in the "coming days," he stated Monday.
Illinois is one of nine states that currently require masks to enter indoor public spaces.