Lightfoot Says Chicago May Not be Ready to Lift Mask Mandate, Vaccine Requirement on Feb. 28

Video: Dr. Emily Landon, executive medical director for infection prevention and control at UChicago Medicine, gives the latest updates on COVID-19 on Feb. 14, 2021, to “Chicago Tonight.” (Produced by Blair Paddock)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot declined Monday to say whether the city is on track to lift its mask mandate along with the state or lift the vaccine mandate for patrons of restaurants, fitness centers and bars on Feb. 28.

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Chicago is “making great progress” after the surge of COVID-19 fueled by the omicron variant pushed confirmed cases of the virus and hospitalizations to record highs, Lightfoot said.

Chicago is still averaging approximately 500 new cases of COVID-19 every day, which is “not where we want to be,” Lightfoot said at an unrelated news conference Monday afternoon.

“We are still seeing too many people dying every day from COVID,” Lightfoot said. “I don’t want to put an artificial date on when this is going to happen when we still see some danger signs in the data.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday he would lift the state’s mask mandate on Feb. 28 as the cases of COVID-19 are no longer overwhelming hospitals across the state. Masks will continue to be required in schools and congregate settings, including long-term care facilities, where people are forced to have close contact, Pritzker said. Federal rules remain in place that require masks in hospitals and on public transportation.

Illinois hospitalizations for COVID-19 peaked at more than 7,300 in mid-January and have declined to approximately 1,900 on Monday, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Pritzker’s action is not in line with current guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends mask mandates in places where the rate of transmission of COVID-19 is “high” or “substantial” because masks reduce that rate of transmission. All of Illinois is experiencing high transmission, according to state data.

Pritzker said he was “optimistic” that the state would meet those guidelines by Feb. 28.

However, if hospitalizations begin to rise — taxing the state's health care system again — Pritzker said he would reverse course.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot reimposed the city’s mask mandate on Aug. 20. Officials from the Cook County Department of Health said they were also optimistic the mask mandate in suburban Cook County could also be lifted along with the state order. 

Since Jan. 3, city officials have required everyone dining, drinking or exercising indoors to show proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Lightfoot has said that both requirements would be lifted in the coming weeks if cases and hospitalizations continue to drop.

The rate of COVID-19 transmission now poses a “high risk” in Chicago, according to city data, after posing a “very high risk” from Nov. 29 to Feb. 8.

City officials assess that risk with four metrics: the number of confirmed cases, the number of positive tests as compared will all tests taken, the number of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and the number of intensive care unit beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

At least three of those four metrics will have to peg the risk of COVID-19 transmission at a “lower” rate for two weeks before the city lifts its mask and vaccine mandates, Chicago officials said. Two weeks is a full incubation period for COVID-19, according to federal health officials.

Up until now, Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, has said that city officials have measured the city’s overall risk in line with the most elevated metric. In fact, the city’s website warns residents that there is currently a “high risk” of COVID-19 transmission, even though just one of the four metrics meets that standard.

Arwady has not taken questions from the news media or residents since Feb. 3, and it was not clear why the city is now requiring just three risk metrics to be at the “lower risk” standard before lifting the mask mandate and the vaccine mandate.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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