Chicago Public Schools

What to Know as CPS Lifts School Mask Mandates Next Week

Monday will mark as the first day of the mask-optional model

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Chicago Public Schools will end its mask mandate for students and staff Monday, allowing all to choose whether they wear a face covering moving forward.

The change comes after Illinois and Chicago removed mask and proof of vaccination requirements for certain indoor spaces Feb. 28 and after Illinois lifted a statewide mandate for schools.

“CPS was one of the first to require universal masking in schools, and we would not be moving to a mask-optional model unless the data and our public health experts indicated that it is safe for our school communities,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “We will support our staff and students as we enter this new phase in the pandemic and continue to move forward together.” 

Here’s what you need to know before school starts:

Can you still wear masks?

Yes. The district said it will continue to encourage the use of masks throughout CPS schools. 

“The adults in our school communities will set the tone during this transition,” Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova said in a statement. “I am confident that we will continue to support and respect one another through this next phase of the pandemic. Family and community situations may change and dictate if a student or staff member wears a mask and we all need to ensure that everyone feels welcome to continue the practice that makes them feel safest and most comfortable.”

What are the current COVID-19 metrics?

The decline in Chicago’s COVID-19 cases, alongside changes to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention masking guidance, brought on the changes to the district’s health and safety guidelines. 

Based on the city's data, positivity rates and hospitalizations are at the lowest they have been since July 2021, a month before the school year started.

As of March 10, Chicago was averaging 138 COVID-19 cases per day with more than 23,700 daily tests administered, producing a positivity rate of 0.7%.

What are CPS' vaccination rates? 

Overall, 56% of age-eligible CPS students have received at least one dose, and 49% are vaccinated fully, according to district data. 

CPS vaccination rates are also drawing near the national average. 

With 64% of CPS students ages 12-17 with at least a first dose, CPS falls short compared to the 68% nationally. 

Rates for students between the ages of 5-11 who have had at least a first dose are 47%, which is higher than the national rate of 33%.

More than 91% of all CPS staff members are vaccinated fully.

Will there be other safety precautions in place?

Voluntary on-site testing, contact tracing and proper hand hygiene practices will remain instated throughout CPS, according to district officials.

“The district has remained responsive to change throughout the pandemic and we must continue to remain nimble and pivot if the health data changes,” Martinez said. “Our staff and families must be confident that we will act quickly and implement safety procedures as needed.” 

Could mask requirements return?

Public health and CPS officials said that should the city and school district move into a higher transmission rate, the mask mandate could be reinstated.

"If we see the risk levels go up, this is in consultation with CDPH and we'll also watch the CDC, if our community goes into a higher risk, we will reinstate masking," Martinez said Tuesday. "And so we're not going to be mask-optional forever."

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