Chicago will follow the state and lift its mask mandate and vaccination requirement for indoor public spaces on Feb. 28, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday.
The announcement comes as multiple COVID-19 metrics in the city have reached “lower risk” status.
“My goal is to make sure that we never have to shut down our economy again,” Lightfoot said. “I don’t sit here with a crystal ball able to predict what the future is, but I feel very confident that we are on the right path and that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Chicago Public Schools will continue to require universal masking for all staff and students, the district confirmed Tuesday. Lightfoot said that businesses are also able to keep restrictions in place, if they choose.
“That is their right and we must respect it,” the mayor said. “Folks, be kind and conscious of your fellow neighbors.”
As Illinois prepares to lift its mask mandate next Monday following Gov. JB Pritzker’s announcement last week, various counties and municipalities in the state can still set their own rules.
The lack of a uniform policy across the state has resulted in mixed messages with different rules for different places that are determined by different officials. Sometimes that happens even in the same city.
Chicago currently requires masks in all indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status, and anyone 5 years or older has to show proof they’re fully vaccinated if they want to dine indoors, visit gyms or go to certain entertainment venues.
Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s commissioner of public health, had said Chicago would roll back those restrictions, like the mask mandate, two weeks after three of the four COVID-19 metrics her department tracks reached “lower risk” status. Since the pandemic started, the city has tracked cases and hospitalizations to measure risk.
That just occurred on Feb. 20. But rather than have the city wait until March 6, officials will go along with the state to avoid confusion.
“If it was a difference of a few days, I didn’t want to confuse folks,” Arwady said Tuesday.
She also noted that all of the metrics are seven-day rolling averages, meaning the city has “been averaging under the metric over the last week and I expect that to continue for the next week.”
The most recent data can be found on the city’s COVID-19 Dashboard.
Masks in schools – do or don’t?
Lightfoot said Chicago Public Schools is having discussions with its stakeholders and she expects an announcement “in the coming days.”
Under the safety agreement reached by the school district and the Chicago Teachers Union in January, masks would stay in place at least through the end of the school year. A CPS spokesperson confirmed this in a statement issued late Tuesday.
“We have made great progress in recent weeks against this virus, and we do not want to jeopardize that progress by moving too quickly,” the statement read. “We look forward to the day when we can be mask-optional at CPS, but we still need to get more students vaccinated across our District, and we still need to work with our public health and labor partners on the best way to preserve a safe in-person learning environment for all.”
The union also issued a statement Tuesday saying the agreement “provides Chicago’s public school communities with the legal right to guarantee safety, despite a right-wing legal attack to remove public health protections.”
Meanwhile, a battle continues over whether the state can continue to require masks in schools.
Pritzker’s lifting of the mask mandate made an exception for schools, where he said masks would still be required.
The governor’s announcement came as many other states led by Democratic governors recently announced the lifting of their own mask mandates, including California, Oregon, Delaware, Connecticut and New Jersey. Rhode Island and Massachusetts moved to lift their mandates not only in indoor public spaces, but also in schools.
But last week, an Illinois appellate court decided to continue an order halting the mask mandate and other mitigations in about 170 school districts.
That means individual school districts can decide their own mask policies.
Northwestern University law professor Nadov Shoked told WBEZ last week that although the governor’s executive order on masks still stands, the order on its own won’t have much impact on a school that makes masks optional.
Cook County dropping its mandates
In suburban Cook County, the mask and vaccine requirements are set to end on the governor’s timeframe at the end of the month, as well.
County public health officials said its COVID-19 metrics, which are the same as those used by Chicago officials, are also continuing to trend downward.
Although the mandates will be removed, officials noted many people may still wear masks.
“We ask for continued understanding and kindness to those who choose to wear a mask,” said Dr. Kiran Joshi, CCDPH Co-lead and Senior Medical Officer.
County officials still “strongly recommend” wearing masks in schools and crowded indoor public settings.
There still are certain places where masks are required by federal law: on public transportation, inside federal buildings, inside congregate settings such as prisons and shelters, in healthcare settings and inside long-term care facilities.