Masks are now recommended in the city of Chicago and 15 Illinois counties that have been elevated to a "high community level" status ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.
In line with metrics criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suburban Cook, McHenry, Lake, DuPage, Grundy and Will counties are all at a "high community level" for COVID-19, meaning masks are encouraged regardless of one's vaccination status.
Under CDC guidelines, a county is considered to be at a “high community level” for COVID when its average number of weekly cases per 100,000 residents rises above 200, and when it either is averaging 10 weekly COVID hospital admissions or when it’s seeing 10% or more of its hospital beds occupied by COVID patients.
With the shift in community level status and increases in metrics, are masks required anywhere in Illinois? One Chicago-area school district recently reinstated a mask requirement, but it doesn't appear any other school districts or municipalities have followed suit.
Following a uptick in COVID cases and shift to "high community level" status in Evanston, Evanston Township began requiring masks for all staff, students and visitors as of Monday. Previously, masks were only "highly recommended."
Earlier this week, as Chicago health officials expected the city to move into "high community level" status, the Chicago Department of Public Health emphasized a mask mandate would not immediately return.
CDPH said additional mandates wouldn't be reinstated because severe outcomes of a coronavirus infection are "relatively rare" and the burden on hospitals remains "low." However, mandates are a possibility if hospitals start to become seriously impacted, CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.
Arwady, however, suggested people should wear masks while visiting indoor public spaces, but noted masks are just encouraged - not required.
"Yes, that means you regardless of your vaccination status as we move into 'high,'" she said. "But even while there isn't a mandate in place, we ask everybody for this short time period while we're in 'high' is to put I put that mask on, especially if you're an indoor crowded setting."
Health departments in Chicago-area counties at "high community level" status have also released similar guidance, encouraging residents and visitors to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
According to the CDC, those in such areas designated as a "high community level" should also take the following precautions: staying up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, maintaining improved ventilation throughout indoor spaces when possible and follow CDC recommendations for isolation and quarantine, including getting tested if you are exposed or develop symptoms.