Pritzker to lift mask mandate, but not for schools

J.B. Pritzker
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker

When Illinoisans go to work, shop or dine out at the end of the month, they no longer will be required by the state to wear a mask, if Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to ease restrictions takes effect.

The current indoor mask mandate could remain in place much longer for school children, however, pending the results of a year-long court case. “Schools need a little more time for community infection rates to drop for our youngest learners to become vaccine eligible, and for more parents to get their kids vaccinated,” Mr. Pritzker said at a Wednesday press conference.

As for the adult mandate, he said, “We are now seeing the fastest rate of decline in our COVID-19 hospitalization metrics since the pandemic began, If these trends continue — and we expect them to — then on Monday, Feb. 28, we will lift the indoor mask requirement for the State of Illinois.”

That does not mean, however, that Illinoisans no longer will be required to wear a mask to gain admittance to some places. “I want to be clear: Many local jurisdictions, businesses and organizations have their own mask requirements and other mitigations that must be respected,” the governor said.

In addition, Mr. Pritzker’s office said, mask requirements will continue where federally mandated at least through March 18. That includes all transportation systems – including airports, planes, trains and buses – as well as health care facilities and congregate settings such as prisons and shelters. 

They also will continue to be required in all daycare settings and at Pre-K through 12th grade schools “subject to pending litigation which impacts a number of schools,” Mr. Pritzker said Wednesday.

Illinois filed a notice of appeal on Monday challenging A judge’s restraining order in that case that would have lifted the mask mandate for 140 downstate school districts.

Sangamon County Judge Raylene Grischow issued that ruling Friday in the suit brought last year by parents of students who objected to the governor’s mask edict. The judge said that the governor had overstepped his legal authority by implementing the mandate. The judge also declared “null and void” Mr. Pritzker’s mandate that school employees must be vaccinated.

In a press conference immediately after the ruling, Mr. Pritzker called her ruling “out of step with the vast majority of legal analysis.” He also said it “cultivates chaos for parents, families, teachers and school administrators.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Pritzker continued to defend the measures he has taken to stop the spread of COVID-19. “Throughout this pandemic, we’ve deployed the tools available to us as needed,” he said. “Our approach has saved lives and kept our economy open and growing.”

As of Wednesday, Illinois reported that more than 21.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered to Illinois residents. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Illinois continues to lead the Midwest in people who have received at least one shot, with 75.7% of people having received their first dose. Illinois also has the most fully vaccinated 17-and-under population in the region, though across the nation, youth vaccination rates continue to trail adult rates.

On Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported 4,742 new confirmed and probable cases and 2,496 people in the hospital with COVID-19. IDPH also reported 449 people with COVID-19 in the ICU and 243 people on ventilators. With 20% of ICU beds now available statewide, this marks the fastest rate of decline in the hospital metrics since the pandemic began, the governor’s office said.

Meanwhile, Illinois and federal public health officials continue to advocate for mask wearing.

“While masks will no longer be required in most indoor locations beginning Feb. 28, they are still recommended,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “Masks offer a layer of protection and for people who have an underlying health condition or who are around those who do, you may choose to continue wearing a mask. Similarly, if you find yourself in a crowded, indoor setting, a mask can still help protect you. We will continue to recommend masks.”

Illinois returned to a statewide indoor mask requirement on Aug. 30, 2021, as ICU bed availability in certain regions of the state dropped into the low single digits. Illinois required masks in all PreK-12 schools and daycares on Aug. 4, 2021, following CDC recommendations.

Public health officials also continue to advocate for vaccination. All Illinois residents over the age of 5 are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost and proof of immigration status is not required to receive the vaccine. To find a vaccination center near you, visit vaccines.gov.

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