State poised to relax indoor masking rules, but maybe not so fast with schools, Pritzker says

Illinoisans should expect easing in COVID-19 rules regarding masking indoors soon, but it's unclear if that will affect schools, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday.

An announcement could come as soon as Wednesday, sources told the Daily Herald.

At an event in Springfield Tuesday Pritzker said, “I've been following the hospitalization numbers” along with consulting doctors and scientists and “we're all very pleased with where the numbers are going.

“And assuming that they are continuing in the right direction ... I really believe that we ought to be looking seriously at how to ratchet that back,” he said.

The governor's remarks come amid a turbulent week for school districts after Sangamon County Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order Friday that suspended enforcement of mask mandates in multiple jurisdictions.

Fallout from the restraining order has resulted in turmoil at some schools with districts across the suburbs and downstate diverging on whether masks should be required or optional.

Asked about schools, Pritzker said: “We're putting a plan together; IDPH doctors are working on this. The challenge in schools is because it's such a central focus of communities and literally thousands of people are interacting in a school in a single day in one location. We've got to be very careful about how we remove those mask mandates and making sure schools do what's responsible” regarding testing and requiring masks when outbreaks occur.

Democratic governors in California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon have announced plans to roll back mask mandates this month or in March, and state Republicans leveraged their actions.

“The images from schools across the state are deeply concerning: administrators locking kids in gyms and preventing entry for those exercising their right to come to school without a mask,” Jesse Sullivan, Republican candidate for governor, said in a statement. “Pritzker should be clear in ending his mask mandate once and for all.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations will be a key metric the state uses in setting mask rules, but Pritzker hasn't given a specific benchmark. As of Tuesday, the seven-day average of patients is nearly 3,025, compared to nearly 7,213 on Jan. 12, 2021. On that day, virus hospitalizations hit a pandemic high of 7,380.

Pritzker rescinded an earlier indoor mask mandate for fully vaccinated people with exceptions on May 17, 2021, when hospitalizations averaged about 1,650. On June 11, 2021, the state relaxed additional COVID-19 mitigations, fully reopening businesses and lifting mask requirements outdoors at schools, for example. At that time, daily hospitalizations reached 760.

Grischow is presiding over lawsuits filed by parents about COVID-19 mitigations in schools.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul appealed her decision to the 4th District Appellate Court in Springfield on Monday. Attorneys representing parents who sued the state and over 165 school districts are expected to file responses by Wednesday at the latest, with appellate justices likely to expedite a ruling.

New cases of COVID-19 numbered 5,825 Tuesday, with 87 more deaths, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported.

There were 2,634 COVID-19 patients in Illinois hospitals as of Monday night.

On Monday, 22,214 more COVID-19 shots were administered. The seven-day average is 24,261.

The state's positivity rate for COVID-19 cases is 5.4% based on a seven-day average.

So far, 8,435,190 Illinoisans have been fully vaccinated or 66.6% of the state's 12.7 million population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The CDC defines fully vaccinated as two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson's. Of the fully vaccinated, 47.9% have received a booster.

Total cases statewide stand at 2,977,341, and 31,570 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic began.

The federal government has delivered 23,280,445 doses of vaccine to Illinois since distribution began in mid-December 2021, and 20,747,971 shots have been administered.

Labs processed 79,905 virus tests in the last 24 hours.

COVID-19 positivity rate drops below 6% in suburbs

Sangamon County judge temporarily halts school mask mandate; Pritzker vows appeal

Illinois attorney general appeals school mask ruling

There were 2,634 patients with COVID-19 in the hospital as of Monday night. Courtesy of Elmhurst Hospital
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