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Vax yes? Mask no! Pritzker to ease Illinois rules on face coverings for fully vaccinated following CDC update

The updated guidelines remove the need for masks or social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated and would also allow them to go without a mask in crowds outdoors.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker takes off his mask before speaking to the media during an event in the Pullman neighborhood in October.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker takes off his mask before speaking to the media during an event in the Pullman neighborhood in October.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Those who’ve rolled up their sleeves can now take off their masks — even in most indoor gatherings.

And they can huddle in a little closer.

That’s the gist of the newest U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, allowing fully vaccinated people to safely stop wearing masks outdoors and in the majority of indoor settings for the first time in about 14 months.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker plans to revise his executive orders related to face coverings following the CDC guidelines issued Thursday. His revised orders will mirror the new rules from the federal health organization, a Pritzker spokeswoman said.

“The Governor believes firmly in following the science and intends to revise his executive orders in line with the upcoming CDC guidelines lifting additional mitigations for vaccinated people,” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “The scientists’ message is clear: if you are vaccinated, you can safely do much more.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker puts on a mask during a briefing at the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop in November.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker puts on a mask during a briefing at the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop in November.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

The new CDC guidance, which was announced Thursday afternoon, still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings — such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. But it could help clear the way for a reopening of workplaces, schools, and other indoor venues.

The updated guidelines remove the need for masks or social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated and would also allow them to go without a mask in crowds outdoors.

The new CDC recommendations come just two weeks after the federal agency advised those who are fully vaccinated to continue to wear masks in all indoor settings and in large crowds outdoors.

But on Thursday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, announced the update on face coverings during a White House briefing. She attributed the change in guidance to the millions of people getting vaccinated — and based on the latest science about how well those shots are working.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

“We have all longed for this moment: when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, left, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, greets Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, right, on Tuesday.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, left, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, greets Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, right, prior to her testimony before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Tuesday.
Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images file

According to the new CDC recommendations, those who are fully vaccinated can resume their pre-pandemic activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

Those who aren’t fully vaccinated should still follow prevention measures.

So far, a little over 10 million vaccine doses have been administered in Illinois, according to figures from the Illinois Department of Public Health. And nearly 4.7 million Illinoisans are fully vaccinated.

The easing of guidelines governing the usage of face coverings comes a day before Illinois enters its 28-day “bridge” phase between Phases 4 and 5 of Pritzker’s reopening plan.

Entering that intermediate phase means museums, amusement parks and zoos will be able to increase capacity from 25% to 60%, while festivals and other general admission outdoor events will be able to seat 30 people per 1,000 square feet.

Meetings, conferences and conventions will also see their capacity limit increase to either 1,000 people or 60% — whichever is less — with the same applying to theaters and performing arts venues.

Barring another surge of infections, or a downturn in other reopening metrics, Pritzker will allow the state to fully reopen June 11.

Editor’s Note: This report has been updated to reflect the correct number of vaccine doses administered in Illinois. An incorrect characterization of the statistic appeared in the print version.