Gov. Pritzker expects indoor mask mandates to end Feb. 28, but not for schools
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced an end to the statewide indoor mask mandate on Monday, February 28, 2022. School masks will still be required for now, but that mandate will also be removed, "certainly within weeks," he said.
"The reality is schools are quite unusual," the governor said. At an unrelated news conference at the University of Illinois, he explained, "Of course, we still have the sensitive locations of K-12 schools, where we have lots of people who are joined together in smaller spaces, thousands of people interacting in one location at a time. And so that’s something that will come weeks hence."
In a news release, he said, "Mask requirements will continue where federally mandated, such as on public transit and in high-risk settings including healthcare facilities and congregate care. Masking requirements will also continue to apply in all daycare settings. The state intends to continue masking requirements in K-12 schools subject to pending litigation which impacts a number of schools. As the CDC reaffirmed just today, masks remain a critical tool to keep schools safe and open."
Asked why he was appealing Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow's decision to block enforcement of his executive mask order in school, if he was ending his mask order anyway, Gov. Pritzker replied, "It takes away one of the tools that we had before.... One case decided in one county by one judge shouldn't keep us from trying to keep the whole state safe."
Judge Grischow's ruling prompted Hononegah and Prairie Hill to make masks optional. Those two school districts were among 145 in Illinois who were specifically named in the lawsuit. Other local school districts which were not named say they are still requiring masks, including Rockton School District and Kinnikinnick School District.
Gov. Pritzker said, "February 28 is a goal, it's not today, we're announcing it today" so businesses can prepare. But he has been talking to epidemiologists, he says, and, "People really do feel the trajectory is one that we're going to be able to hold onto."
Republican leaders were not impressed by the governor's plans. Anticipating the announcement, Republican gubernatorial candidate and Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin stated, “A few short days ago, this Governor refused to end mandates saying we needed to ‘follow the science’ but today says everyone can remove their masks except the lowest risk population. Illinois is being led by a Governor who puts politics and special interests ahead of parents and their children. Enough is enough.”
Businessman Gary Rabine, also a Republican candidate for governor, said, "Illinois kids and parents go into day five of J.B. Pritzker’s mask mandate mess... Today, he will compound the chaos by beginning to lift the mandate for the general public but keep it in place for schools. Other states, including those with Democratic governors, have figured this out. But when politics, not people, are your main concern as Governor, this is what happens. COVID chaos and a crime epidemic are Pritzker’s legacy. It’s time to take our state back."
Gov. Pritzker and state public health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said they made the announcement now because statewide COVID-19 hospitalization rates are declining faster than any other point in the pandemic.
Capitol New Illinois reports that intensive care bed use for COVID-19 had fallen from a Jan. 12 peak of 1,177 to 464 as of Monday night, although Illinois Department of Public Health Data showed 70 of 73 available beds in southern Illinois were occupied.
Approximately 63 percent of Illinois’ population was fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, with nearly 70 percent having received at least one dose.