Chicago COVID pandemic mask rules returning

Chicago COVID pandemic mask rules returning

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The average number of new cases per day was 419 as of Aug. 12. That’s up 21 percent from the previous week. Hospitalizations and deaths—which are lagging indicators—were down 18 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

“I want to be clear: That risk is especially for people who are unvaccinated,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. “As the vaccine has come into the picture, what we’ve seen is the other indicators we follow have stayed at that lower risk level. . . .Our hospitalizations and deaths remain low, and that’s because the vaccine is available for adults.”

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Under the latest rules: Similar to previous mandates, masks can be removed in restaurants, bars and other establishments when patrons are actively eating and drinking. Masks can also be taken off for certain activities that require their removal, such as beard shaves or facials. And workers can remove masks in settings that are not open to the public—in office cubicles, for example—if employees are staying in place and keeping at least six feet from all other people.

The mandate will remain in place as long as cases remain above 400 cases a day, Arwady said. “Once we get through the delta surge, I anticipate that will come back down.”

While the city is not anticipating adding any additional business restrictions, if hospitalization rates increase in ways that “look untenable,” or if the daily case count averages over 800 cases a day, “we may need to put further restrictions in place,” Arwady said.

Asked if rising cases threaten the return to in-person instruction for Chicago students, Arwady replied, “Not at all.”

“It’s more likely you’d see a classroom, for example, needing to quarantine, or at least the unvaccinated students in that classroom,” she said. “We’re not at all thinking about moving away from that right now.”

The mandate applies at bars and restaurants; gyms; common areas of condos and multi-residential buildings; and private clubs.

Masks also remain mandatory on public transportation, in health care settings, at schools, and in correctional and congregate settings. There are no changes to capacity limits in public places and masks are still optional outdoors. The city does recommend unvaccinated people wear them in crowds.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association says it supports the latest mask rules, but with a caveat.

“Like previous mandates, this once again misses the mark by failing to place the responsibility on individuals who refuse to comply, especially after employees were threatened or attacked for simply trying to uphold public health orders,” CEO Rob Karr said in a statement. “We call on the city to place responsibility for abiding by this mandate on individuals, not businesses.”

With this latest rule, the city goes further than the current Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommendation that applies to areas with substantial transmission risk.

Under nationwide CDC guidelines, areas of substantial transmission are those with 50 to 99 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, while areas of high transmission are those with more than 100 cases per 100,000. Chicago is currently high risk.

Substantial risk areas are encouraged to mask up indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

The federal agency in May said fully vaccinated people no longer would be required to wear masks in most indoor settings. Following the guidance, Gov. J.B. Pritzker rescinded emergency rules enforcing masking and social distancing in most indoor and outdoor settings.

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