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Illinois indoor masking requirement ends

Bipartisan legislative committee blocks Pritzker’s emergency rule for schools

Due to the continued decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and increase in available ICU beds, the Illinois indoor mask requirement ended Feb. 28.

Since Governor J.B. Pritzker announced his plan to lift the indoor mask requirement, the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 has been cut in half and the number of available intensive care unit beds available increased by 24 percent.  Illinois’ weekly COVID-19 case rate has decreased by 70 percent.

More than eight million people in Illinois are fully vaccinated with an average of approximately 16,000 COVID-19 vaccines administered each day, including more than 4,600 first doses daily.

“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve taken action to save lives and keep our economy open – and I’m proud that Illinoisans have done the hard work that has our made our state a leader in the Midwest,” said Pritzker.  “Today, our hospitals are much better positioned to handle emergencies and more than half of all eligible adults have been boosted; this is the progress we needed to make to remove our state indoor masking requirements. As individuals, I encourage everyone to make the best choices going forward to protect your health, along with that of your family and community – and most importantly to treat each other with kindness and compassion.”

“We are now entering the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and while our focus continues to be on preventing severe illness and ensuring our health care systems aren’t overwhelmed, we are also looking forward to how we will coexist with COVID-19,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “We each have a role to play in staying healthy and we have many tools that can help protect us from severe illness due to COVID-19.  Our tools include readily available safe and effective vaccines, monoclonal antibody and oral antiviral treatments, at-home testing, as well as the personal health actions people can take such as avoiding crowds, hand washing, and continued mask wearing as may be recommended.”

Masks will still be required where federally mandated (including on public transit), health care facilities, congregate settings, long term care facilities, and daycare settings. Additionally, private businesses and municipalities may choose to implement their own masking requirements.  Schools are urged to continue following state and federal guidance to help keep students and staff safe in the classroom. Pritzker will review the results of lifting the indoor mask mandate before making any announcement regarding the school mask mandate.

In the last four months of 2021 following the reinstatement of Illinois’ mask mandate on Aug. 30, Illinois had fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations per capita and fewer COVID-19 deaths per capita than the entire Great Lakes region.  In the same period, Illinois out-tested the entire Midwest on a per capita basis, providing residents with significantly better access to testing than any of its neighbors.  Even with a much greater testing capacity, Illinois saw fewer reported COVID-19 cases per capita during this time than neighbors such as Iowa and Missouri.

Illinois remains a standout in the Midwest for its vaccination rates.  Illinois is home to the highest percentage of residents who have received a COVID-19 vaccine as well as the highest percentage of vaccinated for those aging five to 17.

The state coordinated almost 8,000 mobile clinics providing more than 243,000 vaccinations to some of its most vulnerable residents (long-term care residents, minority communities, schools, people experiencing homelessness, immigrant communities, and many others).  Of those clinics, the State partnered with community groups and non-profits on more than 2,000 clinics with a specific focus on equity and administered more than 86,100 vaccines.  Almost 75,000 vaccinations were provided at the more than 2,000 school/youth vaccination clinics.

Because of the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, the State will begin winding down its mobile vaccination clinics over the next month as federal funding decreases.

During the Delta and Omicron surges the State provided health care staffing support to hospitals and other health care facilities across the state.  ​At the peak of the Omicron, Illinois had nearly 3,000 nurses and other health care workers deployed across the state to keep its health care system operating.  But as the number of people in hospitals with COVID-19 falls back to pre-surge levels and with federal funding reimbursement for this support ending April 1, ​the State will draw down its emergency staffing support over the next month and work with public and private partners ​as it retakes responsibility for long-term staffing needs.

Testing has also become much more readily available with at-home tests at many pharmacies and the ability to order free COVID-19 tests. The 10 state community-based testing sites are currently open three days a week, but if and when the state continues to see the number of cases and the demand for testing decrease along with hospitalizations and deaths, mass testing locations will close in favor of more cost-effective testing options.

COVID-19 treatments can also help decrease the burden on hospitals.  While vaccination and boosting are currently the lead protection means against severe illness due to COVID-19,  there are currently two monoclonal antibody treatments, sotrovimab and bebtelovimab,  two oral antivirals, Paxlovid and molnupiravir, and a preventive drug, Evusheld, available across Illinois.  Patients should talk with their health care provider as soon as possible after testing positive for COVID-19 to see if they are eligible for one of these treatments and to get a prescription.  They can additionally use the COVID-19 Outpatient Therapy Locator to find a location to fill prescriptions.

Bipartisan legislative committee blocks Pritzker’s emergency mask rule for schools

Pritzker’s latest school mask mandate rule was recently blocked by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR).

The bipartisan committee of Democratic and Republican lawmakers from the Senate and the House voted 9-0 with two not voting to block Governor J.B. Pritzker’s reissued emergency rules requiring schools to enforce his mask mandate despite a recent court ruling. Pritzker’s emergency rule was filed Feb. 14.

“Today, the Joint Committee of Administrative Rules made it clear that we would not accept the Governor’s attempts to go above a court ruling made by a co-equal branch of government,” state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said in a statement.

School districts across the state have adopted an optional masking policy after a Sangamon County Circuit Court judge, ruling on a lawsuit brought by hundreds of parents, issued a temporary restraining order Feb. 4 against mask mandates in schools, saying the governor’s mandate is “null and void.” But, there are other schools, including Chicago Public Schools, defying the judge’s restraining order. They’re set to appear before the Sangamon County judge later this month.

The Pritzker administration is appealing the judge’s ruling. After JCAR’s vote, the Fourth District Court of Appeals directed the attorney general, who represents Pritzker, the state, and attorneys representing the plaintiffs, to explain by Wednesday afternoon how the appeal is affected by the vote.

“In his quest for power and control, Pritzker and his administration was willing to further the chaos and confusion for schools throughout the state,” Rezin said. “With this bipartisan vote, I hope that the governor finally recognizes that his go-it-alone tactic is not in the best interest of our state or its people.”

None of the JCAR members voted against the motion to suspend the governor’s rule, but State Senators Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, and Tony Munoz, D-Chicago, voted present. State Senator Kimberly Lightford, D-Chicago, was not in attendance for the vote.

Earlier in the day, tensions in the House flared over mask mandates, with one member’s microphone being cut off and another asking for maskless lawmakers to be ejected.
As the House was coming to order for the first time since early January, State Representative Natalie Manley, D-Joliet, announced from the speaker’s chair the House rule for members to wear masks.

“We ask that all members take these directives seriously to help keep fellow members and staff safe,” Manley said.

State Representative Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, wasn’t wearing a face covering.

“I could read [the rule] again for you, if you’d like me to,” Manley said.

“That won’t be necessary, madam speaker,” Wilhour said. “So as long as school districts continue to defy the court and force unwanted and unnecessary covering of the faces of children in the …”

“You have not been recognized,” Manley said as Wilhour’s microphone was turned off.

Just before the House went into session, a joint statement from Wilhour and state Reps. Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, and Chris Miller, R-Oakland, said they “ditched their masks on the House floor.”

“Today we entered the House chambers without a mask,” their statement said. “As school districts continue to defy the courts and force the unwanted and unnecessary covering of the faces of children in schools, we will no longer comply with the mask theater that takes place here.”

“It’s over,” the group of Republicans said in the statement. “[Mask mandates have] gone on long enough.”

Despite that, Manley insisted the House mask rule be followed, including wearing masks while speaking at the microphone.

State Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, pointed out the rules allowed masks to come off while speaking at their microphones were in effect last session.
“Are we following the science, or are we not following the science?” Davidsmeyer asked.

“I’m following the rule,” Manley said.

Davidsmeyer then pointed out recent fundraising events where Democrats were seen not wearing masks.

“I think that it’s a little disingenuous to say that we have to do it while we’re here on the House floor, but you don’t have to when you’re in a big group, many of you all together at the same time,” Davidsmeyer said.

State Representative Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, said her son has asthma and lawmakers should wear masks.

“What do we do about those members who refuse to follow those rules, because it’s putting people like me, who look like me, in danger,” Collins said.

Collins added that the Republicans’ actions are a “political circus” and asked for others to wear a mask.

“If not, do exactly what we need to do to remove these people from the chamber,” Collins said.

The House later adjourned without incident. Members not following House rules could face disorderly behavior and expelled with a two-thirds vote of the members.