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Gov. JB Pritzker will ease Illinois mask mandate following new CDC guidance, officials say
The State Journal-Register - 5/14/2021
May 14—Gov. JB Pritzker plans to relax his statewide mask mandate after federal health officials said Thursday mask-wearing is not necessary in most places for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
That announcement on Friday from the Illinois Department of Public Health didn't say when or how the governor's executive orders would be changed after new guidance issued Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state health department, an agency controlled by the Democratic governor, said in a statement: "The governor believes firmly in following the science and will be delighted to revise his executive orders in line with the CDC guidance lifting additional mitigations for vaccinated people. The scientists' message is clear: If you are vaccinated, you can safely do much more."
However, the city of Springfield's mask mandate remains, at least for the time being, according to Julia Frevert, spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Langfelder.
Unlike the statewide mandate, which has no specific penalties for non-compliance, the city mandate can come with fines for businesses and individuals not wearing a mask in most indoor public settings.
Langfelder has said the Springfield mandate would be reassessed at the end of May.
The state on Friday entered Pritzker's "bridge phase" on the way to a potential easing of all COVID-19-related restrictions as early as June 11 through the governor's Restore Illinois plan.
During the bridge phase, capacity limits are loosened from 50% to 60% in offices, retail establishments, museums, amusement parks, ticketed spectator events, movie theaters, zoos and conventions.
Limits also have been expanded for restaurants and bars, with indoor standing areas now allowed at 30% of normal capacity, and 50% capacity allowed for outdoor areas.
The CDC's latest announcement on masking said fully vaccinated people don't have to wear masks outdoors, even in crowded spaces.
But the CDC said fully vaccinated people still should wear masks in health care settings and on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation.
It's unclear how schools, offices and local businesses would put the CDC guidelines into place without asking people to show their vaccination cards.
More than 154 million Americans, or about 47% of the population, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and about 120 million are fully vaccinated.
COVID-19 shots nationwide opened up in recent days for children ages 12 through 15, adding to the 16-and-older population that already had received federal clearance to receive vaccine.
In Illinois, 4.6 million people, or 36.5% of the population, have been fully vaccinated.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said in a memo to local health departments that it is working to adjust existing guidance documents in response to the updated CDC recommendations.
The department memo said "fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any non-health care setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance."
"In addition," the memo said, "employees and residents of congregate settings, such as correctional facilities and homeless shelters, should continue to mask. Similarly, schools should continue to follow the CDC's school guidance until more people and children are vaccinated."
The Sangamon County Department of Public Health went on record supporting the CDC recommendations, even though the department's support doesn't affect Springfield's mask mandate.
Almost 41% of Sangamon County's 195,300 residents are fully vaccinated, and the county has been among counties with the highest vaccination rates in Illinois.
But the share of the population fully vaccinated "need to go higher if we want to continue to enjoy the benefits of what we have achieved," the Sangamon County health department said in a statement.
"We support the new guidelines because of their intended purpose of encouraging all residents to be vaccinated," according to the statement. "We must encourage our family members, friends and coworkers to take advantage of the vaccine, both for themselves and their children."
The statement added: "We want to thank the residents and businesses of Sangamon County for their diligence and cooperation during this pandemic. ... It is important, though, to note that the pandemic is not over. Although we have had great success with vaccinations, we still have a rate of community transmission that we believe is higher than acceptable. ... We must remain diligent and adhere to the remaining mitigation efforts if we truly want to put an end to this pandemic."
Forty-nine additional deaths of people with COVID-19 were reported statewide Friday, along with 1,841 new COVID-19 cases.
There have been a total of 1.36 million COVID-19 cases and 22,369 deaths of Illinoisans since the pandemic hit the state in spring 2020.
As of Thursday night, 1,708 people in Illinois were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the state health department. Of those patients, 425 were in intensive-care units and 237 were on ventilators.
The statewide seven-day test-positivity rate was 3.1%.
The Sangamon County health department reported 38 new COVD-19 cases and no new deaths on Friday. There have been a total of 18,762 positive cases and 234 deaths related to COVID-19 among county residents.
Thirteen Sangamon County residents with COVID-19 remain hospitalized.
In Menard County, two new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths were reported. The county has recorded a total of 1,235 positive cases and seven COVID-19-related deaths. Two county residents with COVID-19 remain hospitalized.
Contact Dean Olsen: email@example.com; (217) 836-1068; twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.
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