Will Mask Mandates Return Amid Increasing COVID Cases? Chicago's Top Doctor Weighs In

As the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois see some upward movement in new COVID cases, health officials say they are not looking to reinstitute mitigations, including mask mandates, at this time.   On Thursday, Illinois reported its single-highest daily total of new COVID cases since late May, with 6,636 new probable and confirmed cases over the last 24 hours. The state’s average number of new cases, which had been on a brief decline in recent days, has also started to creep back upward, with 4,514 new cases per day over the last seven days. That number is still well below the nearly 6,300 new daily cases the state was seeing in May, and is also far below where the state was at the absolute worst of the initial omicron surge. Despite those numbers, Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady says that the city is staying away from a mask mandate, saying that hospital capacity is still adequate to meet the current needs of patients. “I do not anticipate a mask and indoor mask mandate requirement coming soon. Where we would put an indoor mask requirement back in place is if we’re seeing our health care system getting threatened,” she said. Illinois had reinstituted a mask mandate in Aug. 2021 after a rapid surge in cases because of the delta COVID variant. That mandate remained in effect through the worst of the omicron-driven surge in early winter, but was lifted by the governor in late February as cases decreased. Now, even with cases starting to trend upward again because of a more-contagious form of the omicron variant, state and city health officials say that it would take a much-larger surge in cases to consider bringing the mask mandate back into effect. In Arwady’s case, she says that in the event of a large surge, officials would look to the number of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients. If that number exceeds 10%, then a return to some mandates, including mask requirements and proof-of-vaccination rules, may be brought back. “We have to protect that health care capacity,” she said. “That’s where we would be potentially putting our mask requirements back in, or even considering for a short period of time a vaccine requirement for high-risk settings.” Arwady cautioned that such moves would only be made to “get (Chicago) through a surge,” and they would be targeted for limited amounts of time. According to the latest data from the Chicago Department of Public Health, approximately 4.1% of the city’s non-ICU beds are currently occupied by COVID patients. Approximately 4.4% of the city’s ICU beds are currently in use by COVID patients, officials said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has Cook County at a “high transmission level” of COVID, and recommends, but doesn’t require, residents to wear masks in indoor settings.

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