Several suburbs require it, Illinois' governor is considering making it a statewide mandate, but Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says there's a reason she hasn't ordered city residents to cover their faces in public.
Lightfoot and Chicago health officials have encouraged and recommended face coverings for those who must leave their homes, but a city mandate has not yet been issued.
"That's a topic that's under a lot of discussion and debate," Lightfoot said Wednesday. "And what I think is this - and I think the governor said this as well and this is consistent with not only the CDC guidance, but the guidance of our Department of Public Health in congregate settings - If you cannot safely social distance, you should be wearing a mask [at the] grocery store. [In] other essential places that people are traveling these days, you should be wearing a mask. And I think a lot of people are doing that.The challenge is making sure that every member of the public has the same accessibility to some kind of face coverage."
Lightfoot said any potential policy needs to be reasonable for people across the city.
"We know from the disparities in our city that what is possible in Lincoln Park is not the same as what's possible in Austin, or Englewood or Roseland," Lightfoot said. "So we have to have a policy that is consistent with the realities of people's lives. And while we're going to continue to encourage people to wear masks in congregate settings, mandating that without giving people the tools to actually comply… and we're not going to lock people up because they're not wearing a mask in in public."
Officials in nearly a dozen Chicago suburbs have issued some form of a requirement that everyone wear masks in certain public spaces during the coronavirus pandemic.
Deerfield, Evanston and Oak Lawn were the most recent suburbs to implement such a measure this week. They joined at least eight others with similar requirements: Wilmette, Highland Park, Northbrook, Niles, Morton Grove, Skokie, Cicero and Glenview.
The orders require face coverings for the general public, but not medical-grade masks or N95 respirators, which officials said should be reserved for healthcare workers.
Face coverings should be worn when engaging in essential activities like grocery shopping or seeking medical supplies, while riding public transportation or in ride share vehicles and when working in an essential business, some orders state.
Business owners may refuse admission or service to anyone not wearing a mask as required in some suburbs. Exceptions include when residents are engaged in outdoor activity as allowed under the state's stay-at-home order, like walking, running, biking and other activities.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that implementing a requirement to wear masks statewide "might be seriously important for us to consider" and could be included in a modified stay-at-home order.
Pritzker, along with other state and federal officials across the country, have already recommended face coverings for people who have to leave their homes, particularly to go to places like grocery stores.
"I think it's a something that when I look at the mitigation measures that we should be contemplating and making adjustments to, that is one that I think might be seriously important for us to consider, you know, in the period going forward," Pritzker said.
"Look, anything that we can do going forward, that will protect people and at the same time make it more likely that we can have slightly, you know, different conditions for stay-at-home, better conditions, is a good move," he added.
State and federal officials have already recommended people cover their faces in public, noting that it could potentially help limit infected people from spreading the virus.
Pritzker noted, however, that masks are not a substitute for social distancing and such guidelines still need to be followed.
"Let me be clear, wearing a mask is protecting everybody else," he said. "So you're doing everybody else a favor or you know, you're doing the right thing for everybody else in your presence by wearing one. By not wearing one when you're in public, going into a public place or anything like that, you know, it's something you aren't doing to protect other people."
Lightfoot said such guidance is good, but a mandate may not be the best course for Chicago.
"Sounds like a great idea, but when you think about the practicalities of how that's actually going to be implemented, that's where the challenge comes in," she said. "And I don't believe in placing any further burden on people. They should be safe. They should wear a mask when they go outside, particularly if they're going into any kind of congregate setting. But I want to do that in a way that reflects the realities of people's experiences out in the public."
Per CDC guidelines, cloth masks should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, be secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric, allow for breathing without restriction and be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage.