Pritzker: Continued COVID decline could end mask mandate

Pritzker with mask

Gov. JB Pritzker | Illinois Policy

Gov. J.B Pritzker said Illinois will need to show a steady decline in state COVID-19 transmissions before he considers lifting the statewide indoor mask mandate he revived in August.

When asked what metrics were needed for Pritzker to rescind his executive order, the governor pointed to high hospitalization rates and new case numbers relative to metrics when Illinois “fully reopened” in June.

“We’re watching to make sure that we’re on a good downward trajectory,” Pritzker said Oct. 4 at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago’s Loop. “That’s what we were looking for back in May leading into June; it’s what we’re looking for now in order for us to possibly make changes.”

Pritzker would not be specific.

Illinois has experienced a gradual decrease in new daily COVID-19 cases since the resurgence in late August driven by the Delta variant.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported the state 7-day rolling average fell to 2,416 new cases per day through Oct. 12, down from 3,657 cases per day when Pritzker reinstated mask requirements in indoor public settings, regardless of residents’ vaccination status.

Despite the steady decline in metrics, weekly average cases persist high above the 381 daily average reported during the week ending June 11, when Illinois lifted most pandemic mitigations under Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan.

Pritzker said Illinois hospitalization rates also remain “relatively high,” with an average of 1,646 COVID-19 patients filling hospital beds statewide per day through Oct. 11.

That count has dropped by more than a quarter during the past month from an average of 2,301 cases per day in the first week of September. Still, health care providers report limited access to ICU beds in southern regions of the state as a result of an influx of new cases.

Statewide, Illinois COVID-19 transmission continues to fall, with a 2% test positivity rate on Oct. 12.

The governor’s evasive remarks on a threshold to lift Illinois’ mask mandate mirror public comments Pritzker has used to justify extending his retention of emergency powers since the onset of the pandemic.

Pritzker has in turn used these emergency powers to sign and reissue his executive mandates, carrying the force of state law, for the past 21 months.

When pressed in a July 26 interview on what specific statistic the state would need to meet for him to stop renewing Illinois’ state of disaster status – prolonging his expanded powers – Pritzker responded in generalities.

“There’s always something that we need to be monitoring about this pandemic because as you’ve seen that even though we have vaccines available there is a good number of people in our population who are not yet vaccinated,” Pritzker told Illinois Capitol News.

“What’s important is to keep the people of Illinois healthy and safe, and that’s making sure people get vaccinated.”

At the end of this latest proclamation, Pritzker will have granted himself emergency powers over Illinoisans for 589 consecutive days.

Illinois has made the mistake of putting unprecedented power in the hands of politicians before, giving rise to the state’s second-worst in the nation culture of corruption. But rather than return power to the elected officials Illinoisans chose to represent them, the majority of lawmakers have remained silent while Pritzker extended his emergency powers.

Given Pritzker’s fuzzy metrics for relinquishing his emergency powers, state lawmakers would be wise to define those limits now. After 21 months, it will be hard to argue the emergency precluded elected representatives from weighing in on Pritzker’s statewide decisions.

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