Unmasked transit: Pritzker ends mask mandates in public transportation, airports

Metra, CTA and PACE immediately say masks will no longer be required onboard trains and buses.

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Passengers wait to board the train at the Clark and Lake Station on Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

Passengers wait to board the train at the Clark and Lake Station on Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The state will no longer require masks on public transportation or in airports, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday afternoon.

The decision to revise Illinois’ executive order came after a federal judge in Florida struck down the national mask mandate on public transportation.

Pritzker’s changes to his executive order will lift mask mandates on public transit, in public transit hubs and at airports for the state.

Local governments will still have the right to institute their own mask restrictions, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

A spokesperson for Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted masks will no longer be required on the CTA or inside of O’Hare or Midway airports. 

Metra immediately announced masks will no longer be required onboard trains but asked that people be “courteous and kind toward your fellow riders and understanding of their needs and choices.”

“This has been a difficult period for everyone — let’s all do what we can to help each other on the way back,” Metra officials said in a written statement.

Hours before Gov. J.B. Pritzker lifted the transit mask mandate, he said, “Our plans and our mitigations are in place as they have been.

“We want to encourage local governments and businesses to take actions that they think will keep their patrons and their local residents safe,” Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference at Chicago State University. “And we’re going to continue to report on how we’re doing as a state, very important so that people can take the kind of mitigation measures home and decide for themselves how they want to operate.”

Nearly 2,300 Illinoisans have tested positive for COVID-19 each day over the past week, a rate that has more than doubled in the past month as the more infectious BA.2 subvariant of Omicron has swelled to dominance. But coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths are still hovering around pandemic lows.

Earlier in the day, Lightfoot was asked how long the CTA would keep the mask mandate in effect.

The question was asked after her luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago.

“Because you want to wear it for a long time?” Lightfoot jokingly asked the questioner.

Turning serious, she said, “Obviously, we just got the news yesterday about the court decision. And we are conferring today. I believe that where we will end up is we’re gonna recommend that people who feel comfortable and feel like they need to wear a mask continue to wear a mask and make sure, frankly, that we’re being respectful of people who are making those decisions.”

The same goes for Chicago airports, the mayor said.

“There are a number of people who are just not ever gonna feel comfortable again not wearing a mask in those kinds of public spaces,” Lightfoot said.

“And I can tell you for the foreseeable future for myself, I’m not getting on a plane without a mask.”

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle’s decision freed airlines, airports and mass transit systems to make their own decisions about mask requirements, resulting in a mix of responses.

The Department of Justice said Tuesday it will appeal the decision if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines the requirement is still necessary.

The mask requirement covered airlines, airports, mass transit and taxis, and was the biggest vestige of pandemic restrictions that were once the norm across the country.

The nation’s two biggest ride-hailing companies said early Tuesday they were also changing their policies.

Lyft had announced that masks would now be optional for drivers and passengers.

Uber, in a tweet Tuesday morning, announced: “You can now ride without a mask and use the front seat if you need to. While mask usage is still recommended, we’ve updated our Covid Safety policies. Let’s move forward, safely together.”

Contributing: AP, Stefano Esposito, Mitch Dudek

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