No maskless free-for-all yet: Here's where precautions remain in place in the suburbs

Numerous entities — pharmacies, schools, cinemas, religious organizations and more — said Friday they will continue to require face masks to prevent spread of COVID-19 in the short term, despite the federal government relaxing rules for fully vaccinated Americans.

That cautious approach comes amid two days of churn and some confusion after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and President Joe Biden announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in public, with some exceptions such as on public transit or airplanes.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday he would revise the state's strict face covering rules. And the Illinois Department of Public Health is working to “adjust guidance documents in response,” according to a memo.

“I firmly believe in following the science and will revise my executive orders in line with CDC guidelines lifting additional mitigations for vaccinated people,” Pritzker said in a statement.

“The scientists' message is clear: if you are (fully) vaccinated, you can safely do much more.”

But guidance would be helpful, said some business leaders, who indicated they aren't the vaccination police asking customers who is inoculated and who isn't. Instead, many expect to adopt a universal face mask standard for now.

Trying to determine which patrons received shots is “way too complicated,” Classic Cinemas President Chris Johnson said. “How do you monitor once (they're) in the theater?” The CDC's announcement “is a welcome move, but we need more understanding.”

Also, “Walgreens will continue its face covering policy for the time being,” spokesman Fraser Engerman said. “The safety of our team members and customers is our top priority and will continue to guide our decision process.”

The CDC's shift was a result of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations declining nationwide.

It's good to know a return to “normal” is coming, health experts said, but they noted the pandemic hasn't gone away and urged common sense. For example, the youngest Americans from infants through age 11 are not yet eligible for vaccinations.

“Until younger children are eligible to be vaccinated for the COVID-19 vaccine, they should continue to wear face masks when they are in public and around other people,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Jonathan Pinsky of Edward Hospital was concerned about unvaccinated individuals.

“The risk is if unimmunized people go into the mall (for example), and they're not required to mask because no one's telling them to do that, and they make the decision not to wear a mask — that's a risk to themselves and others who are unimmunized,” Pinsky said. “And that may potentially have a downstream effect in terms of increased transmissions and increased infections.”

The CDC's decision came out a few hours before the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights staged “Little Shop of Horrors” at its new tent venue.

“We are asking people to continue being masked while in the venue itself,” Executive Artistic Director Joe Keefe said. Last night, guests were saying, “You want us to be masked? It's not a problem,” he said.

For many religious organizations, worshippers should still mask up, leaders said.

“We are requiring that masks be worn as we evaluate the impact of the CDC's new guidance on our policies and guidelines,” said Diocese of Joliet spokeswoman Mary Massingale.

At the Islamic Foundation of Villa Park, “we will continue to require masks in our facility,” Imam and religious activities coordinator Hisham AlQaisi said.

In Lake County, it won't be a maskless free-for-all at the Dunn Museum in Liberty. “At this time, we will continue to require all visitors to the museum to wear masks,” Lake County Forest Preserve Superintendent of Educational Facilities Andrew Osborne said.

“We may reconsider our policies once the governor officially updates the current statewide mask mandate.”

Face mask requirements are expected to remain in place in schools through the end of term, suburban officials indicated.

“At this moment, the governor has not updated his executive order, which means we must stay the course at this time,” Naperville Unit District 203 Executive Director of Communications Sinikka Mondini said.

Also, “we are encouraged by the increased availability of the vaccine for individuals who are 12 and older, as well as this latest news from the CDC,” Elmhurst Unit School District 205 spokesperson Beverly Redmond said.

“District 205 is awaiting further instructions from the Illinois Department of Public Health and DuPage County Health Department regarding masking for students and staff when returning to school fully in-person this fall. We look forward to a return to normalcy.”

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  The CDC's relaxing mask rules for fully vaccinated people is welcome, but don't expect face coverings to disappear in Illinois, especially with children through age 11 not eligible for shots. Masks are also required on Metra and other public transit. John Starks/, June 2020
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