Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said Tuesday he would like to remove the state’s mask mandate as the winter holidays approach, but did not give a specific timeline or metric for the state to hit in order for him to rescind it.
Pritzker said he and the Illinois Department of Public Health continue to monitor the state’s COVID-19 metrics.
“I want [the mandates] to go away too,” Pritzker said. “But we want to make sure that we’re keeping people healthy and safe, following the guidelines that doctors are offering for us. So we’ll continue to do that. Obviously, we want to remove the mitigations as we approach the holidays.”
Adding that people spend extended time with each other at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Pritzker said he wants the state to get to a place where mask mandates can be removed so long as numbers go down.
Illinois has trended well in its COVID-19 metrics as of late.
As of Monday, the state was below 1,500 COVID-19 hospitalizations, down from the peak of 2,333 hospitalizations on Sept. 6. The state’s seven-day rolling average for cases dropped to 2,176 cases per day, the lowest since Aug. 4. And 81% of the state’s population currently eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine — residents that are 12 and older — have received at least one vaccine dose.
Hard-hit Region 5 – southern Illinois – which ran out of available, staffed ICU beds for a full week in September, has regularly had available, staffed ICU beds in the double digits for the past week.
Dr. Allison Arwady, head of Chicago’s health department, said during a Monday news conference that she has spoken to IDPH about changing mask requirements back to a regional level.
“I have been talking with [the Illinois Department of Public Health] about taking that regional approach and being able to remove that as an indoor mask requirement,” Arwady said, according to Block Club Chicago. “If we get out of that substantial risk category, I’d be very happy. But, really, looking ahead, we’ll have a better sense by, I think, Thanksgiving.”
Speaking during a Tuesday news conference, Pritzker emphasized the importance of COVID-19 booster shots, especially in the elderly population.
“If you are eligible for a booster shot, please go get one,” Pritzker said.
The governor’s comments on vaccine boosters come as the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve booster shots for both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Boosters for the Pfizer vaccine already have been approved. The FDA also is reportedly working on approving mixing and and matching coronavirus vaccine doses.
The Moderna booster is expected to be half the dose of the first two shots, while the Pfizer vaccine is a full dose of the third shot, and Johnson & Johnson is expected to be a full dose as well.
In anticipation of the CDC authorizing booster shots for both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the coming days, the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) is preparing to provide booster shots to residents at the state-run veteran’s homes, the majority of whom administered the Moderna vaccine. IDVA has already hosted a Pfizer booster clinic for staff and residents who received the Pfizer vaccine and the department is preparing additional clinics for residents once the CDC recommends boosters for all COVID-19 vaccines.
“There is an [National Institutes of Health] study which many people have heard reference that there may be a benefit to mixing and matching,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “We are following federal recommendations at this time.”
Pritzker emphasized data that said seniors are 29 times more likely to end up hospitalized with COVID-19 if they are unvaccinated, and that boosters would extend that life-saving protection.
“Booster shots are already a normal part of modern medicine,” Pritzker said.