Chicago will end its indoor mask mandate and no longer require restaurants, fitness centers and bars to require proof of vaccinations from customers on Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday.
“It’s important for us to recognize this moment for what it is: a huge step forward in our efforts to defeat COVID-19,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Chicago will act in concert with the state, which is also expected to lift its mask mandate on Monday. The mask mandate and proof of vaccine requirement will also end on Monday in suburban Cook County, officials said.
Lightfoot’s action is inconsistent with current guidelines set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommend mask mandates in places with “high” transmission rates of COVID-19 or “substantial” because masks reduce this rate of transmission.
All of Cook County is experiencing significant transmission and masks should be worn in doorways, According to the CDC.
While city officials credited the vaccine’s mandate with boosting vaccinations, Lightfoot said it was designed to ensure Chicago hospitals could continue to operate during the peak of the surge caused by the omicron variant. The rule has made it very difficult for some restaurants and fitness centers to operate, she said.
Illinois Restaurant Association CEO Sam Toia called Lightfoot’s announcement an “encouraging sign of better times ahead” for Chicago’s hospitality industry.
“This is a significant step that will increase consumer confidence and keep our restaurants on the path to recovery,” Toia said.
When Gov. JB Pritzker announced Feb. 9 that he would lift the statewide mask mandate on Monday, Lightfoot said Chicago would not follow suit until two weeks after three of the four measures officials health authorities are using to assess the risk of COVID-19 transmission have reached a “lower rate.” Two weeks is a full incubation period for COVID-19, according to federal health officials.
Chicago reached that point on Sunday, beginning what Lightfoot said would be a 14-day countdown, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
However, Lightfoot’s announcement means Chicago will only have gone nine days with three of the four risk metrics at a lower rate.
City officials assess the risk of COVID-19 transmission with four metrics based on a seven-day average: number of confirmed cases, number of positive tests out of all tests performed, number of hospital beds hospitals occupied by COVID-19 patients and the number of intensive care unit beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Only the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 remains at “substantial transmission”.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Feb. 16 that Chicago may end the mask mandate and vaccine requirement before that two-week period to avoid confusion with the rules of the state.
The first day Chicago had fewer than 250 hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients was Saturday and the first day Chicago hospitals had fewer than 100 COVID-19 patients in intensive care was Friday to respond to the established standard for “low-risk transmission,” according to city health data.
Masks will continue to be needed in schools and gathering places, including long-term care facilities, where people are required to have close contact, Lightfoot said. Federal rules remain in place that require masks in hospitals and on public transportation.
A January agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union requires all students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings through August. The agreement means Chicago public school mask rules have not been affected by an ongoing legal challenge that has prompted most school districts outside of Chicago to make masks optional.
Despite the agreement, Lightfoot said discussions were “ongoing” about masks in Chicago public schools and an announcement would be made “soon.”
However, hours after the mayor’s remarks, Chicago Public Schools officials said there would be no changes to the district’s COVID-19 mitigation requirements, including the requirement that all staff and students wear masks.
“We look forward to the day when we can be masked at CPS, but we still need to get more students in our district vaccinated, and we still need to work with our public health and labor partners on how best to preserve a safe in-person learning environment for all,” the district said in a statement.
In a statement, union leaders said they were pleased that headteachers “continue to honor the security agreement that our members sacrificed four days’ pay for last month. That agreement today gives public school communities in Chicago the legal right to ensure safety, despite a right-wing legal attack to remove public health protections.
Lightfoot and Arwady acknowledged that another variation could reverse the progress they celebrated on Tuesday.
“We really don’t know, it’s the honest truth,” Lightfoot said. “We are…constantly and diligently looking to see if there is another variant on the horizon.”
Daily hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Chicago peaked at an average of more than 240 on Jan. 6 and declined to an average of 27 per day starting Monday, according to data from the Chicago Department of Public Health.
An average of 283 Chicagoans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus each day over the past week, down 37% from the previous week, according to data from the Chicago Department of Public Health.
The city’s test positivity rate is 1.5%, down from 2% the previous week, while the number of tests fell 13%, according to city data.
Daily hospitalizations have dropped 29% over the past seven days and 76.5% of all Chicagoans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, city data shows.
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]