BELLEVILLE — COVID-19 isn't gone, but Illinois health officials say numbers have dropped low enough to warrant lifting the state's mask mandate for most indoor public places.
"This does not mean that no one needs to wear a mask anymore," Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist and chief hospital epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine, said at a news conference in early February. "It's an acknowledgment that cases have fallen to an acceptable or manageable level."
While you'll still have to wear a mask in certain settings, grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, bars and other businesses won't have to require them.
Here are answers to some questions about Illinois lifting the mask mandate.
When do the changes go into effect?
The statewide mandate for most indoor settings will be lifted as of Monday.
Where will masks still be required?
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They will still be required in places where the federal government requires them, including public transit, health care facilities and congregate living settings such as nursing homes or prisons. They will also be required in day cares for those over the age of 2.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants masks to remain mandatory in K-12 schools, but many have dropped the requirement as pending litigation threw the rule into question. Pritzker has said he plans to lift the mandate for schools as well. Children and staff may still wear masks they choose.
Do I have to wear masks in businesses, like grocery and department stores?
Businesses are allowed to set their own rules and customers are obligated to follow them — same for workplaces.
Can local governments set their own rules?
Should I still wear a mask?
Illinois public health officials strongly recommended people continue to wear masks in indoor public places.
Illinois Department of Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike has said it's a good idea to keep one handy.
"If you find yourself in a crowded, indoor setting, a mask can still help protect you. We will continue to recommend masks," Ezike said earlier this month.
Whether you continue to wear a mask indoors or not, public health officials have some advice.
It's safer for people who are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 or who aren't at high risk of getting really sick to go without a mask, according to Dr. Alex Garza, chief community health officer for SSM Health.
People who are at higher risk, such as older people, those with underlying health conditions or who are unvaccinated should consider using a mask, Garza said.
If wearing a mask doesn't bother you, it's a "low barrier" with a "high payoff," Garza said, because they're an effective and inexpensive way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control still recommends wearing a mask in indoor public places. In January, the CDC noted that some masks provide better protection than others. Respirator masks such as an N95 or KN95 offer the best protection.