Pritzker aims for holidays to drop indoor mask mandate

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he'd like to rescind Illinois' indoor mask mandate in time for the holidays, but he stopped short of saying what metrics needed to be hit in order for that to happen.

Pritzker made the statement Tuesday at a news conference where he urged eligible residents to schedule COVID-19 vaccine booster shots and outlined how he planned to deploy resources from around the state to provide those inoculations in nursing homes and other congregate care settings.

"As we approach the holidays, that's an important marker for us," Pritzker said. "We want to make sure these numbers keep going down, because we'd like very much to head into the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas where people spend extended amounts of time together, we'd like very much to get to a place where we can remove certain mask mandates."

When the indoor mask mandate was reinstated this summer, it was because of surging hospitalizations.

State health officials Tuesday reported 1,426 patients were being treated for COVID-19 infections in hospitals throughout Illinois. Of those hospitalized with COVID-19, 332 were in intensive care, according to Illinois Department of Public Health figures.

The state's seven-day case positivity rate remains at 2%. Case positivity is the percentage of new cases diagnosed from a batch of tests; a seven-day average is used to account for any anomalies in the daily reporting of those figures.

When the indoor mask mandate was reimposed statewide in late August, hospitals were treating more than 2,200 COVID-19 patients and the statewide seven-day case positivity rate was at 5.2%, according to IDPH records.

But at their lowest points earlier in the summer, hospitals were treating as few as 380 COVID-19 patients and the seven-day case positivity rate was below 1% for nearly a month.

"I want them to go away, too," Pritzker said of the indoor masking regulations. "But we want to make sure we're keeping people healthy and safe, and following the guidelines doctors are offering to us."

IDPH officials Tuesday also reported 21 more deaths from the virus, as well as 2,071 new cases.

That brings the state's death toll from COVID-19 to 25,491 residents, while 1,673,346 cases have been diagnosed since the outset of the pandemic.

IDPH officials reported 29,477 more doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered statewide. Providers throughout Illinois have now administered 15,099,528 doses of the vaccine.

At his news conference Tuesday, the governor urged eligible residents, particularly older people, to schedule COVID-19 booster shots.

Expecting new guidance from federal officials later this week or early next week on booster shots for those who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Pritzker said state agencies are partnering to provide booster shots for those who might not be able to travel to get their doses, especially those 65 and older.

He noted only 18% of eligible seniors had received the booster shots, according to the most recent data available.

With less than 60% of the state's 12.7 million residents fully vaccinated, Pritzker also urged those who have yet to receive the vaccine to do so.

"You are 29 times more likely to end up in the hospital if you are an unvaccinated senior," he said.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike also noted new policies are in the works for vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 fairly soon with federal regulators set to discuss guidelines later this month and early next month.

"The FDA's advisory committee is slated to review the Pfizer vaccine for kids 5 through 11 next week on Oct. 26," she said at today's event. "The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the CDC's review are scheduled for Nov. 2 and 3."

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