Illinois school mask mandate being removed, Pritzker says
CHICAGO - Gov. JB Pritzker announced Friday night he’s ending the mask mandate for Illinois schools effective Monday, Feb. 28.
The governor released the following statement on Twitter.
"I’m gratified that the Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s restraining order, meaning that if a school mask mandate needs to go into effect in the future, we continue to have that authority.
I’m also extremely pleased to say that because the CDC has recommended that masks are needed only in areas of high transmission, the State of Illinois will move forward to remove our school mask mandate, effective Monday. We will recommend that all school districts follow CDC guidance and will update our existing guidance in the coming days."
An Illinois Supreme Court order issued late Friday found that a Springfield judge’s Feb. 4 order preventing statewide enforcement of the mask mandate should be vacated because a lower appellate court recently found the case to be moot.
Pritzker had appealed a temporary restraining order issued by Sangamon County Circuit judge Raylene Grischow against scores of Illinois school districts, but the appellate court dismissed the appeal. The court found that because rules from the Illinois Department of Health requiring masking and other COVID-19 protocols had been allowed to expire, the appeal was moot. The governor then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
It wasn’t clear whether schools could still impose their own mask mandates, but Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudeyyah said last week at the time of the appeal that Pritzker "is encouraged that the court made it clear that school districts can continue to keep their own mitigations in place."
Under new U.S. guidelines released Friday, most Americans were advised they can ditch wearing masks in public.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined the new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip, with less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.
The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC's risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.
The agency is still advising that people, including schoolchildren, wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. That's the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans reside.
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The new recommendations do not change the requirement to wear masks on public transportation and indoors in airports, train stations and bus stations. The CDC guidelines for other indoor spaces aren’t binding, meaning cities and institutions even in areas of low risk may set their own rules. And the agency says people with COVID-19 symptoms or who test positive shouldn’t stop wearing masks.
But with protection from immunity rising — both from vaccination and infection — the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower, the CDC said.
"Anybody is certainly welcome to wear a mask at any time if they feel safer wearing a mask," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a news briefing. "We want to make sure our hospitals are OK and people are not coming in with severe disease. ... Anyone can go to the CDC website, find out the volume of disease in their community and make that decision."
As mask mandate fights have roiled school districts across Illinois the past month, Chicago Public Schools officials and Board of Education members defended their commitment to masking Wednesday while opening the door for a relaxed policy later this spring.
Schools chief Pedro Martinez said he’s open to the idea of lifting the district’s mask mandate at some point but cautioned against impulsive decisions.
"I do predict there’ll be a day we can go mask optional," Martinez told the Board of Education at its meeting Wednesday in the Loop. "And I would love that to happen before the end of the school year.
"Right now though, I feel like in a movie that keeps rewinding because one month it’s, ‘Everybody should be remote, nobody should be in school, it’s too dangerous.’ The next month it’s, ‘Nobody should have masks, they’re terrible, they’re hurting our children.’"
The school board unanimously approved a resolution that etched in stone the district’s pandemic protections over the past two years and reaffirmed Martinez’s power to respond to safety needs as necessary. Despite suggestions from critics, the measure did not cede the board’s authority to approve or deny future policies.
Associated Press and Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.