With Mandate Over, Illinois Businesses Can Decide How to Handle Mask Requirements

Since the end of August, if you went shopping, ventured out to a movie or strolled through a museum, you’ve had to keep your face covered.

Not anymore.

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As expected, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday issued a new executive order that lifts the requirement for masking in most indoor public settings, citing a “vast improvement” in COVID-related hospitalizations and transmissions, as well as modified Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

“I’m so excited that we have no indoor mask mandate, that we have no school indoor mask mandate, and it’s all because the people of Illinois did the right thing throughout this pandemic and that we’ve been able to bring hospitalizations down,” said Pritzker, who is running for reelection, at an event at Chicago’s Navy Pier. “I’m excited about the spring and the summer, what it’s going to mean for everybody now that we can all see our smiles.”

While masks will no longer be mandatory in many settings, there are some exceptions. Masks must still be worn anywhere they are federally required, including planes, trains and other forms of public transit.

They must also be worn in congregate settings like prisons and homeless shelters, as well as any health care setting.

However, masks are no longer required in schools. A majority of districts in Illinois already went mask-optional after a court ruling lifted the governor’s mandate. While Pritzker appealed that ruling, the state’s high court says the issue is moot at this point.

Chicago Public Schools are still requiring masks, per an agreement with the teachers union that mandates them for all students and staff through August. However, CEO Pedro Martinez has indicated that he is open to lifting the requirement.

At The Dearborn restaurant in the Loop on Monday, bartenders, wait staff and patrons were free to go sans mask for the first time in 192 days.

General Manager Gregory Samuels said it went well.

“It feels freeing, it feels like we’re taking one more step back from hell into what I don’t think we’ll ever be able to call normalcy again, but certain resembles life as we knew it before COVID,” Samuels said.

Municipalities, groups and private businesses may still chose to mandate either proof of vaccination or require customers to keep their faces covered.

The executive order explicitly states that nothing “prohibits an individual from choosing to wear a face covering or a public or private entity from choosing to require face coverings in public settings.”

At Wicker Park’s Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery, customers will have to wear a mask.

Danielle Mullen said it’s about her employees’ and consumers’ comfort more than the science.

“For us, it’s the sense of safety. Immunocompromised people exist. Including myself,” Mullen said. “And so having that sense of safety in a space where people are talking animatedly, and typically a foot away from you, is incredibly important in our bookstore space.”

Semicolon is so-named because it’s the point in a sentence to pause and then move forward. It’s Mullen’s philosophy in life and business, but it’s an approach that works with navigating the pandemic too.

She said she has constantly pivoted. As the owner of the shop, she can quickly readjust her policy if she and the staff collectively determine they’d prefer going mask-free.

“We don’t want to dive into the politics or ins and outs of why you don’t want to wear your mask or don’t want to get vaccinated, because it doesn’t matter,” Mullen said. “You’re going to wear your mask in this store regardless. And everybody’s on the same page and we don’t have to discuss it further. What we can discuss are books.”

On Monday, Chicago’s public health director Dr. Allison Arwady told a City Council committee that the mandate’s end does not mean the pandemic is over, and that it could be reinstated if severe cases of COVID spike.

Arwady said the best protection from continues to be vaccination.

While Chicago may rein in the program some, the city currently offers free home visits plus a $50 gift card to anyone who has not yet received the first or second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.  

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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