Summer in the city? COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations — and masking — looking more like July than February
“Things seem to be pretty good. Hospitalizations are way down. Cases are way down, and we hope we can sustain that through the spring and the summer and frankly, forevermore,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at Navy Pier.
SPRINGFIELD — As Illinois’ indoor mask mandate ended in most public settings on Monday, hospitalizations for COVID-19 and daily caseloads were at their lowest levels since July, the last time face coverings were no longer required across the state.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,159 new cases Monday and 816 the day before — the lowest daily count since July 20.
“Things seem to be pretty good. Hospitalizations are way down. Cases are way down, and we hope we can sustain that through the spring and the summer and frankly, forevermore,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a news conference Monday.
As of Sunday night, 943 hospital beds statewide were occupied by COVID-19 patients, the lowest level since July 31, and less than half the number of occupied beds reported just a little over two weeks ago.
A total of 157 intensive care unit beds were filled with COVID-19 patients Sunday night, occupying just 5% of the total ICU beds across the state. That figure was roughly 40% when the state hit its all-time record of 7,380 patients hospitalized with the virus on Jan. 12, and 1,177 of them in ICU beds.
Deaths from COVID-19 were also down on Monday, with 12 reported.
The governor credited the state’s emergence from the record-breaking Omicron surge to residents following the restrictions — even as he lifted them.
“I am so excited that we now have no indoor mask mandate, that we have no school indoor mask mandate,” a maskless Pritzker said at a Navy Pier event. “It’s all because the people of Illinois did the right thing throughout this pandemic and that we’ve been able to bring hospitalizations down.”
The governor announced late Friday that he would also be lifting the mask mandate for schools on Monday hours after the Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear his administration’s appeal of a decision in a long court battle over the requirement for face coverings in classrooms.
Masks will still be required in Chicago Public Schools, however, despite updated guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that categorizes Cook County as a community in which face coverings are largely optional.
CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union agreed in January to universal masking through August unless it’s renegotiated by the union and school district.
The updated CDC guidance, released Friday, is based more on what’s going on in hospitals and less on case positivity. The new recommendations categorize COVID-19 community levels as high, medium or low. Counties that are determined to be “low” have the green light to go maskless in most indoor spaces. Face coverings are recommended for those who have tested positive for COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to someone with the disease.
Just 21 of Illinois’ 102 counties fall within the high community level category, more than half of which are located in southern Illinois, an area with the state’s lowest vaccination rates. Wearing a mask indoors is just one of the mitigations advised for those areas.
Even with the state’s mask mandate lifted, face coverings are still required in long-term care facilities, healthcare settings and public transportation. Pritzker encouraged those who still want to wear masks to do so.
“If you feel like you should wear a mask anywhere — indoors or outdoors, in a room with more people than you think is comfortable — you should wear a mask,” Pritzker said. “I want to encourage people to have some compassion for everybody else. Both ways, whether they’re wearing a mask or not.”
Last year, Pritzker lifted the mask mandate for most indoor venues on June 11, the culmination of a series of “bridge” phases of lessening restrictions leading up to the state’s final reopening. But roughly two and half months later, the governor reinstated the mask mandate on Aug. 30, blaming the Delta variant and the unvaccinated for filling hospital beds across the state.
“Unfortunately, our current vaccination levels are not enough to blunt the ferocity of the Delta variant and hospitalization surges in some regions,” Pritzker said at the time. “Hospital administrators are asking for more help to manage the sheer number of incoming patients who, I’ll emphasize again, are almost exclusively individuals who have chosen not to get the life-saving vaccine.”
For help finding a shot, or to set up a free in-home vaccination appointment, visit chicago.gov/covidvax or call (312) 746-4835.