Anyone who goes inside an Illinois driver’s license facility will have to wear a mask beginning next week, officials announced Wednesday, as the latest statewide surge in COVID-19 keeps getting worse.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White cited the nationwide coronavirus upswing in bringing back the mask mandate, which will apply starting Monday at all driver services facilities and other buildings managed by White’s office. That includes the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield.
In a statement, White called it an “imperative” move to stay open, especially with his office still catching up on “heavy customer volume” left over from the pandemic shutdown last year.
White’s mask mandate comes a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a revised set of masking guidelines recommending masks indoors for all regardless of vaccination status in counties considered to be at a substantial or high risk level for COVID-19 transmission. That includes more than half of all Illinois counties, but only one in the Chicago area (Will).
Masks are also now recommended for anyone inside a school. The Illinois Department of Public Health has fully adopted the new CDC guidelines.
“You should be wearing a mask if you are in an enclosed environment or if you’re bunched up with a lot of other people, even if you’re vaccinated. It is the smartest thing to do,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference.
Average daily coronavirus case counts in Illinois have multiplied by a factor of six over the past month, mostly due to the spread of the more infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 in areas with lower vaccination rates.
Public health officials announced 2,082 new cases of the disease Wednesday, the first time Illinois has reported more than 2,000 cases in a day since May 7.
The average statewide case positivity rate stands at 4%, up from a pandemic low of 0.6% on June 25. In the initial wave of the pandemic, positivity rates soared past 20%. It jumped back up over 13% in the worst days of the crisis last fall, and topped out at 4.4% during the most recent previous spike in April.
Coronavirus hospitalizations have almost doubled since late June, but deaths have remained fairly level — and both metrics are still extremely low compared to peak numbers seen last November and December.
Experts say the latest wave is hitting hardest in communities comprise the 28% of eligible Illinois residents who have yet to get at least one vaccine shot. Pritzker said he’s “looking strongly at the idea” of requiring state workers to get vaccinated or get tested regularly, a policy being implemented in several other big cities and states.
“I am looking at all the possible mitigations that we could consider. At the moment I want to be clear with everybody: wear your mask, but most importantly get vaccinated,” Pritzker said. “It is our responsibility to one another.”
As for driver services, White’s office has pushed back the expiration dates for driver’s licenses and ID cards until Jan. 1, 2022, due to the pandemic backlog. Federal officials have pushed back the deadline for REAL IDs that will be required for air travel to May 3, 2023.
License plate stickers and some other services can be taken care of online at cyberdriveillinois.com.