As new COVID-19 infections tumble in Illinois, pressure is building for Governor Pritzker to end the state’s mask policy.
This week, four states, all with Democratic governors — Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon — set timelines to end mask mandates in schools. Ten other U.S. states and territories currently have masks requirements in place. But most of them are easing restrictions.
Tuesday, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin sent Governor Pritzker a letter that read, in part, “Your lack of a plan has forced people to give up hope that they can ever have a normal life in Illinois.
“Governor, it has been a long two years, and the people of this state deserve to know what you are doing.”
At a downstate event Tuesday afternoon, Pritzker said hospitalizations are his marker for lifting mandates.
“I’ve been following the hospitalization numbers and we’re all very pleased with where the numbers are going,” Pritzker said.
More than 2,600 Illinoisians are currently hospitalized with COVID hospitals, with a few hundred more than when the mask mandate was reinstated in late August. But there are few COVID patients in intensive care and ICU capacity is the highest it’s been in nearly three months.
“It’s a tremendous desire of mine to do what we did last summer, which is to take masks off and see if we can’t get through this now that we have treatments, widespread spread vaccination, testing available,” Pritzker said.
Masks requirements in school have become a political flashpoint. The state is appealing a judge’s order temporarily barring dozens of districts from requiring students to wear masks. The governor is not saying how he’ll handle masks in schools.
“Because it’s such a central focus of communities and literally sometimes thousands of people are interacting in a school,” Pritzker said. “We’ve got to be very careful about how we remove the mask mandates.”
Even if the governor lifts some COVID mitigations, local governments like the City of Chicago still have their own restrictions in place. Mayor Lightfoot still has not lifted the vaccination requirement for most businesses.