'We want them decreasing': Pritzker says mask mandate stays until hospitalizations drop
After receiving a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state's indoor mask mandate will stay in place until there's a marked decline in hospitalizations.
"New hospitalizations are flat, and that is not a good sign," Pritzker said. "We're still much higher than we were during the summer, and we want them decreasing."
Illinois Department of Public Health data released Tuesday showed another slight increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations overnight.
When the masking mandate was enacted in late August, the state was seeing about 2,220 COVID-19 hospitalizations. Currently, there are fewer than 1,300, but health officials are concerned the number hasn't dipped more after the most recent surge in cases.
When the state's indoor mask mandate was lifted in June, there were fewer than 700 COVID-19 patients hospitalized.
Even if the governor decides to roll back the indoor masking requirement, he emphasized it would be for places "outside schools."
Pritzker also said another factor in any changes in the requirements would be how well boosters had been dispersed among older residents of the state, "because that's where we've seen breakthrough disease."
"But most importantly, if hospitalizations are heading downward, that's a really good sign and means that we're getting more and more optimistic about removing indoor mask mandates outside schools," he said.
Pritzker received his booster at a clinic near the University of Illinois-Chicago Hospital.
The governor had originally received a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in March. He said he went with the Pfizer/BioNTech booster because it had been recommended previously and federal regulators have since approved mixing and matching booster doses.
"So I thought I'll try another one," he said.
With vaccinations poised to begin for children ages 5 to 11, Pritzker said any decision about mandating them for attendance at Illinois schools would have to come from the legislature.
"And I haven't seen that on the horizon," he said.
IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said there are no plans to require the COVID-19 vaccine for children to attend school, as there are for other vaccinations.
"There's no vaccine requirement at this time," Ezike said, "but that's not probably forever."
Meanwhile, IDPH officials reported 1,274 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized Tuesday. That's the most in nearly two weeks. Of those hospitalized, 294 are in intensive care.
IDPH officials also reported 24 more deaths from the virus, as well as another 2,382 new cases.
That brings the state's death toll from COVID-19 to 25,858, while 1,704,031 total cases have been diagnosed.
The state's seven-day case positivity remained steady at 2%. Case positivity is the percentage of new cases derived from a batch of tests.
Another 40,583 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered throughout the state, IDPH records show.
IDPH officials are reporting 57.3% of the state's population of 12.7 million residents is now fully vaccinated.
Vaccine providers in Illinois have administered 15,766,108 first, second and third doses since December 2020, according to IDPH figures.
Since Oct. 27, vaccine providers have administered 352,150 shots.
Of those, 74,256 were first doses, 60,212 were second doses and 217,682 -- or nearly 62% of all shots -- were boosters, according to IDPH data.
Ezike urged booster shots for anyone eligible, which she desccribed as anyone 18 and older whose last dose was six months ago or more, or anyone 18 and older who has received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.
However, Ezike noted the focus of health care providers is getting doses to the unvaccinated.
"Our priority remains getting those people who have not gotten any shot, to get that first shot," she said. "Those of you who have not gotten a single shot, please, you need to start on your vaccination journey."
She noted that new research indicates anyone unvaccinated between ages 30 and 49 is "18 times more likely to die of COVID than people of that same age who are vaccinated."