Cook County's indoor mask mandate remains in full effect for all suburban businesses and municipalities despite COVID-19 cases plateauing or decreasing, the health department reminded Saturday.
"We are encouraged that COVID-19 cases have plateaued or slightly decreased from the recent surge, but given that indoor activity will increase with colder weather, the masking mandate remains an important tool in turning back this pandemic," the Cook County Department of Public Health said in a statement.
Both the Illinois and Cook County mask mandates require that all people age 2 and older "who can medically tolerate a mask" wear one while in multi-unit residential buildings and public places, health officials said.
CCDPH urged all those eligible to receive the COVID vaccine, noting that the shots are "safe and effective."
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Chicago's top doctor said this week that she hopes Chicago's mask mandate will end "soon" and provided a metric for when the city could remove the requirement.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a Facebook Live event that, per U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the city would need to be below 200 cases per day to remove the mask mandate.
"Our numbers are going down," Arwady said. "When we get below 200 per day with good testing, per the CDC, moving out of that 'substantial transmission' risk, that's what [the mask mandate] would be coming off."
As of Saturday, Chicago was reporting 294 COVID-19 average cases per day, which is down from 299 cases last week, according to the latest data.
She added that as more children become vaccinated against COVID-19, that Chicago could move closer to getting rid of the mask mandate. However, as of now, there is "no change to that plan."
Chicago cannot independently remove a mask requirement, though, unless the state of Illinois also intends to life the mandate.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he's hopeful mask mandates will be lifted in time for the upcoming holidays, noting more people will likely plan to gather over the next couple months to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Speaking to reporters after delivering a COVID-19 update last week encouraging booster shots for eligible Illinoisans, Pritzker said state health officials are "continuing again to watch the numbers" daily to "determine when the right time is," though he added that the time is not now.
"I know pretty much every moment of every day you've wanted us to remove every single mitigation," he said. "Every question that you give is a question about removing mitigations. I want them to go away too, but we want to make sure that we're keeping people healthy and safe following the guidelines that doctors are offering for us. And so we'll continue to do that and obviously we want to remove the mitigations as we approach the holidays. These are, you know, that's an important marker for us."
Pritzker urged caution among residents, saying that continued declines in metrics would be required for the state to lift its mask mandate.
"We want to make sure these numbers keep going down. We'd like very much to head into, you know, we have three holidays coming up, but especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, where people spend extended amounts of time together, so we'd like very much to get to a place where we can remove certain mask mandates," he said.
Last week, Arwady agreed that mask mandates are likely here to stay for at least the coming weeks, though she urged even more caution heading into the holiday season.
"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 told reporters over the weekend. "My big question is what's happening between now and Thanksgiving, honestly."
Arwady said masking will remain even more important during 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."
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.
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.