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Mask off? Pritzker eases face covering rules, supports those still wearing them — including himself

Asked about his face covering at an unrelated news conference on Monday, Pritzker said he thinks all residents “are going to have to adjust to the idea” of not needing to wear a mask. “I have to think about it a little more, I must admit,” Pritzker said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker adjusts his face mask after a news conference in June 2020.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker adjusts his face mask after a news conference last year.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker followed the lead of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday, issuing an updated executive order removing his mask and social distancing mandates — in most settings — for those who are fully vaccinated.

The state’s department of public health also removed its emergency rules on social distancing for fully vaccinated people.

“Getting vaccinated is the ultimate protection from COVID-19 and the quickest ticket back to normal life,” Pritzker said in a statement. “With public health experts now saying fully vaccinated people can safely remove their masks in most settings, I’m pleased to follow the science and align Illinois’ policies with the CDC’s guidance.”

Pritzker went on in his statement to say he supports individuals and business who choose to continue to wear a mask “out of an abundance of caution as this pandemic isn’t over yet.”

The Democratic governor is one of those still wearing a mask — nearly eight weeks after receiving a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Springfield.

Asked about his face covering at an unrelated news conference on Monday, Pritzker said he thinks all residents “are going to have to adjust to the idea” of not needing to wear a mask.

“I have to think about it a little more, I must admit,” Pritzker said. “There are times when I don’t want others to feel uncomfortable, but that’s just a courtesy in my view.”

But with the updated masking guidance, and the state now in the “bridge” phase of Pritzker’s reopening plan, the end of the pandemic could be near for Illinois.

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 announced last week allowed for fully vaccinated people to safely stop wearing masks outdoors and in the majority of indoor settings. But they still call for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings — such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.

Under Pritzker’s updated rules, Illinoisans — whether vaccinated or not — will still be required to wear masks on public transportation and in transportation hubs, in correctional facilities and homeless shelters and in healthcare settings.

Children will be required to wear masks in schools — those in daycare will also still be required to wear a face covering, according to a news release announcing the state’s changes.

Those who aren’t fully vaccinated should continue to take preventive measures, including wearing their masks and practicing social distancing.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens as state Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike briefs the media in May.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens as state Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike briefs the media earlier this month.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said that while the updated guidance is “welcome news” the guidance is “only for those people who are fully vaccinated.”

“Individuals who do not have the protection afforded by one of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines should still wear a mask,” Ezike said in a statement.

“While more than 64% of adults in Illinois have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, we need to increase that number. To slow down disease spread and the development of even more deadly variants, we need as many people as possible to be vaccinated.”

As of Monday, the state has administered 10.4 million doses of the vaccine. A little over 4.8 million people in the state are fully vaccinated, according to data from the department of public health.

The state’s updated policy on masks follows changes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which announced last week its newest guidelines.

When the CDC issued the update last Thursday, a spokeswoman for Pritzker said the governor planned to revise his executive orders to mirror the new rules.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker receives the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on March 24 in Springfield.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker receives the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on March 24 in Springfield.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

“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.”

Last Friday, Illinois entered its 28-day “bridge” phase between Phases 4 and 5 of Pritzker’s reopening plan.

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