Illinois is set to drop its statewide mask mandate Monday, marking the end of an almost six-month period where masks were required to be worn indoors in many public places, including schools, businesses, restaurants and government chambers.
Illinoisans can go without a mask indoors starting at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, with a few exceptions. These include healthcare settings, day cares, long-term care facilities, congregate areas such as prisons and shelters and transportation, as dictated by federal policy. As it stands, people visiting these places will need to continue wearing masks.
Local governments and businesses still are able to do what they think is best when it comes to masking rules, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker said during an unrelated news conference last week. They won’t, however, be required in schools, Pritzker announced late Friday.
“We all need to take some personal responsibility, and we need to follow the doctors’ recommendations,” Pritzker said on Tuesday. “Although we’ve lost many lives, we’ve lost many fewer than many of the other states in the Midwest.”
The indoor mask mandate has been in place since late August 2021, which came after a few months of a previous mask mandate having been lifted. Pritzker reinstated the mandate after rising cases and hospitalizations due to the delta variant of the coronavirus gripped the state last summer.
Pritzker said he was dropping the mask requirement now because of a decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases.
The change to the state’s policy comes as Illinois in many respects is one of only a few states in the nation to still require masking. Almost all states in the U.S. have dropped their mask mandates after the omicron variant, which is responsible for the latest surge in coronavirus cases across the U.S., has waned in recent weeks.
Throughout the past year, states also have wrestled with masking tied to vaccination statuses. In May 2021, Pritzker announced fully vaccinated people no longer were required to wear masks. However, this was rolled back in August when the current mandate required everyone to wear a mask, regardless of their vaccine status.
Dating back to January, COVID-19 cases in Illinois, predominantly from the omicron variant, have dropped drastically, peaking at 44,089 on Jan. 6, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website. After a few other days of spikes in the following weeks, the state reported 1,549 new cases on Tuesday, IDPH data shows.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday also announced her intentions to remove both masking and vaccination requirements in an effort to align with the state. In a release from the city, Lightfoot, similar to Pritzker, said decreasing metrics suggest it’s safe to remove masks.
“I want to thank Chicagoans and in particular, our business community for adhering to these measures and helping us pass through this difficult time while keeping restaurants and other businesses open,” Lightfoot said in the release.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released new guidelines loosening mask requirements. The new policy now is based more on hospital activity, which is a shift from positive test results and new case numbers that have guided policy for the bulk of the pandemic. The CDC on Friday also removed its mask requirement for people using public and private school vans and buses.
New guidance recommends masks in high-risk areas, or in medium-risk areas if you’re at a high chance of illness. Of the nation’s 3,200 counties, more than 3,000 still are listed as having substantial or high transmission.
Despite the change from the CDC, people traveling on public transit, such as buses and airplanes, still will be required to wear a mask until at least March 18, which is when the federal government’s current order is set to expire.
Masking in Illinois schools has been a major point of contention. Pritzker had said he intended to keep it in place for K-12 schools even after the mandate was lifted Monday. That changed on Friday.
A recent court ruling in February by Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow had largely blocked it and as a result, hundreds of districts pulled back their masking requirements making them optional, albeit recommended. A legislative panel Feb. 15 in Springfield opted not to renew the rules due to the current litigation still being up in the air.
Days later, on Feb. 17, an appellate court ruled that because that guidance had expired, there was nothing to enforce, leaving the choice of masking in the hands of individual districts.
The Illinois State Supreme Court on Friday lifted the temporary restraining order against Pritzker’s school mask mandate granted earlier this month. Pritzker, however, announced the school mask mandate would fall off with the indoor state mask mandate on Monday after the state supreme court’s decision.
“I’m gratified that the Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s restraining order, meaning that if a school mask mandate needs to go into effect in the future, we continue to have that authority,” Pritzker said in a statement.
“I’m also extremely pleased to say that because the CDC has recommended that masks are needed only in areas of high transmission, the state of Illinois will move forward to remove our school mask mandate, effective Monday. We will recommend that all school districts follow CDC guidance and will update our existing guidance in the coming days.”