Pritzker mask mandates: Governor announces changes to indoor face covering requirements

CHICAGO (WLS) — During a press conference on his 2023 budget proposal Wednesday, Gov. JB Pritzker announced plans to start rolling back the statewide indoor mask mandate at some locations.

Pritzker said Illinois has handled COVID better than almost every other state in the Midwest, in part because people wore their masks, but he acknowledged everyone is becoming weary of wearing them.

“My intention is, as we’ve seen these numbers peak and heading downward significantly, … to lift the mask mandate in indoor locations by Feb. 28,” he said.

WATCH: Gov. Pritzker plans to lift indoor mask mandate in some locations this month

The governor recently hinted at imminent changes, saying at another news conference, “We’ve been watching this very closely and are very close to making announcements, so you’ll be hearing about that very shortly.”

A source briefed on the matter said the changes will impact malls, restaurants, bars and places of business, but not schools. Schools are governed by a separate mandate, and will be addressed separately.

“We still have the sensitive locations of K-12 schools, where we have lots of people, who are joined together in smaller spaces, and so that’s something that will come weeks hence,” Pritzker said Wednesday.

A downstate judge’s ruling against the school mandate and the governor’s subsequent appeal have led to protests and confusion in districts across the state.

The changes will also not impact prisons or nursing homes, the source said, or healthcare facilities or public transit, which are under a federal mask mandate.

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Colleen McNeal is a CTA commuter, who is happy to keep her mask on on the El.

“Just because there are rush hours. It’s so many people boarding the train. There’s limited seating. There’s a lot going on, especially on the Green Line, with people smoking and things of that nature,” she said.

The governor reinstated the indoor mask mandate in late August after COVID hospitalizations started to rise again. The governor has always said the mask decision was driven by hospitalization data, and hospitalizations statewide have been falling consistently for the past seven days, and by more than 60% statewide in the past month.

Most regions in the area are out of the warning zone, or close to it, for hospital bed availability.

That has been the key metric the governor’s office has focused on in making mask mandate decisions.

“Very importantly, things are getting better across the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said.

With Democratic governors on the west and east coasts lifting their mask requirements, Pritzker is facing mounting pressure.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin wrote him a letter saying in part, “Governor, it has been a long two years and the people deserve to know what you are doing…Your lack of plan has forced people to give up hope that they can ever have a normal life in Illinois.”

Even if the statewide mask mandate is lifted, individual municipalities can continue to impose their own rules.

Separate announcements are expected in the coming days from Chicago and suburban counties.

Some business owners are eager for the mandate to be lifted.

Moon Rabbit Acupuncture in the West loop has been carefully navigating through the pandemic, complying with any and all COVID safety mandates.

“It’s with a big feeling of relief to get back to normal. I think a lot of the other business owners are just gonna be so excited,” said Gudrun Snyder, with Moon Rabbit.

With wellness in mind, Owner Snyder still wants her customers to feel comfortable when the mask mandate is lifted.

“If they wanna continue to wear their masks, they should, but people who don’t want to once the mask mandate is lifted, we welcome them to come in and show us their smiles,” she said.

Restaurant Owner and Chairman of the Illinois Restaurant Association Sam Sanchez said lifting the mask mandate and even the vaccine mandate as quickly as possible is essential to keep more restaurants from closing.

“By removing the mask mandate and the vaccine mandate, our customers will feel comfortable and confident it’s safe to come out, and then our business will flourish,” he said.

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