As Pritzker lifts mandate on transit, masks now optional on Metra, CTA, Pace and at airports
Metra, Pace and CTA passengers who rode to work Tuesday morning wearing masks were allowed to go home with or without face coverings after two days of rapidly evolving policies.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday afternoon announced he would end a mask mandate on public transit and at airports after a federal judge's decision Monday that overturned the government's plan to keep restrictions in place until May 3.
Pritzker said he would revise an executive order that kept the COVID-19 mitigations in place on Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace, and at O'Hare and Midway international airports.
Within two hours of Pritzker's action, all three transit agencies and the Chicago Department of Aviation said masks would no longer be required, but leaders encouraged travelers to respect each other's choices.
Given the governor's announcement, "starting immediately, masks will be welcome but not required while traveling on Metra trains," the commuter railroad said. "They remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19.
"We are asking everyone to please be courteous and kind toward your fellow riders and understanding of their needs and choices. This has been a difficult period for everyone -- let's all do what we can to help each other on the way back," Metra said in a statement. It was a sentiment echoed by Pace, the CTA and aviation department.
Pace officials said "masks will be welcome but not required on Pace buses or at facilities effective immediately."
The CTA and Chicago Department of Aviation both stated that while "the city continues to see low levels of transmission of COVID-19, customers and employees who wish to continue wearing masks are encouraged to do so."
On Monday, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said it would no longer enforce "mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs."
That led Chicago's hometown carrier, United Airlines, along with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines to say that masks would be optional on flights.
Metra, Pace, the CTA and Chicago Department of Aviation started the day requiring masks but shifted rapidly after Pritzker lifted the mandate shortly after 3 p.m.
"I continue to urge Illinoisans to follow CDC guidelines and, most importantly, get vaccinated to protect yourself and others," Pritzker said in a statement.
The TSA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control last week extended the period for masks to be worn on transportation systems from Monday through May 3 because of increasing cases of the highly infectious BA.2 variant of COVID-19.
The agency needed to "assess the potential impact the rise of cases has on severe disease," officials said.
On Monday, Florida U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, said the mask mandate exceeded the CDC's authority and the agency improperly failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rule making.
The aviation industry had pushed to end the mandate, saying air distribution systems on airplanes are highly effective at preventing the spread of infections. Another concern was a spike in unruly passengers with many disruptions related to masks.