by J. J. Quincannon, The Chicago Times

August 17, 2021

CHICAGO — Masks must be worn in public indoor settings in Chicago regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status, according to public health officials, as the city continues to see an increase in COVID-19 transmission.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, stated that beginning Friday, Aug. 20, everyone over the age of two, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear a mask while indoors in public places.

It will apply to gyms, stores, apartment building common areas, and restaurants, though people will be permitted to remove face coverings while eating and drinking.  Masks are already required in schools due to a statewide order issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“With the highly transmissible Delta variant causing case rates to increase, now is the time to re-institute this measure to prevent further spread and save lives . . . We continue to track the data closely and are hopeful this will only be temporary and we can bend the COVID curve, as we’ve done in the past.” according to Arwady.

While masking is optional in outdoor settings where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is low, Arwady advised unvaccinated individuals to wear masks in crowded outdoor settings.

The mandate comes after Chicago surpassed the 400 new cases per day threshold, putting it in the CDC’s high-risk category for community transmission.  On Monday, the daily average case rate increased to 419.  According to Arwady, the count is far lower than a winter peak of more than 3,000 daily cases.  She stated that no additional restrictions or closures were planned.

According to Arwady, more than 70% of adults in Chicago have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Masks are required in all indoor public places, including bars and restaurants, gyms, condo and multi-residential building common areas, and private clubs.  Masks can be removed by patrons in restaurants, bars, and other eating/drinking establishments when they are actively eating and drinking, similar to previous mask mandates.  Masks can also be removed for activities that require it, such as beard shaving or facials.  Additionally, masks can be removed by employees in non-public settings if they are static and at least six feet away from all other individuals.

Masks also remain mandatory on public transportation, in healthcare settings, schools, and correctional and congregate settings. The new public health order does not include capacity limits at public places, and masking remains optional in outdoor settings, where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower. Masks are recommended for unvaccinated individuals in crowded outdoor settings.