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Mask mandate in Chicago possible if daily virus cases top 200, Lightfoot warns

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 7/27/2021 Gregory Pratt, Joe Mahr and Dan Petrella, Chicago Tribune
a man wearing a suit and tie: Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over the city council meeting at City Hall in Chicago on July 21, 2021. © Jose M. Osorio/TNS Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over the city council meeting at City Hall in Chicago on July 21, 2021.

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot will consider reinstating a mask mandate and other restrictions if the city starts to consistently record more than 200 new COVID-19 cases per day, she said.

Lightfoot made the comments in a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times where she was asked about the pandemic and expressed alarm about rising totals among the unvaccinated, as she did during a news conference last week.

Asked what her threshold is for reinstating a mask mandate, Lightfoot said, “Well, look, if we get back into an area where we feel like we’re in a red zone, which we are working very hard to make sure that our daily case rate is below 200, if we start to see consistently going over that, we’re not only going to look at a mask mandate, but we’re going to look back at other tools that we’ve been compelled to use.

“I hope we don’t get there,” Lightfoot added. “What we’re going to keep focusing on is pushing the vaccine. But my No. 1 priority is to keep people safe.”

As of July 22, Chicago’s seven-day rolling average of new cases was 165, according to the city’s COVID-19 dashboard. That’s well below the April peak of more than 700 average new daily cases but does represent about a 75% increase over the previous week.

Lightfoot faces a complicated balancing act on the pandemic. She has encouraged residents to get vaccinated and warned about possible restrictions if the city sees spikes. But she also has made a point of emphasizing her desire to keep the city as open as possible. At times, it has led to some mixed messaging.

As cases rose last October, for instance, she regularly warned about tighter restrictions being forthcoming — then criticized Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker for again shutting down indoor dining.

Lightfoot is also facing some criticism from people who think Lollapalooza shouldn’t be allowed to happen this year as cases swell. Her administration is nevertheless carrying on with plans to host the 100,000-people-a-day music festival.

Statewide, the number of new daily coronavirus cases continues to rise rapidly.


Video: Chicago mask mandate could return, Lightfoot says (ABC 7 Chicago)

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The state on Monday reported 1,088 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, bringing the average number of daily cases to 1,294 over the past week. That’s 1,000 more cases per day than at the beginning of the month, and an increase of nearly 60% from a week earlier, when the state was average 811 daily cases.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 also continue to rise, along with the number of patients in intensive care units and on ventilators.

An average of 657 coronavirus patients were in hospitals statewide each during the week ending Sunday, up from 428 patients at the beginning of the month, an increase of nearly 54%, and the highest average since the week ending June 15.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker touted on Twitter on Monday that half of kids ages 12 to 17 in Illinois are now vaccinated, making Illinois the first Midwest state to reach that milestone.

But the state’s overall vaccination effort continues to lag, with 56.2% of the eligible population fully vaccinated and an average of 18,439 doses administered per day during the week ending Sunday. That’s less than half the 41,150 doses per day the state was averaging at the beginning of the month, though it’s up slightly from a lull around the Fourth of July holiday, when daily doses dropped to 16,423 during the week ending July 9 — the lowest level since vaccines became widely available.

As for whether a mask mandate or other restrictions could return statewide, Pritzker “continues to listen to the advice of scientists and doctors as he considers all possible avenues to keep the people of Illinois safe,” spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement Monday.

Pritzker lifted nearly all remaining coronavirus-related restrictions June 11, when Illinois moved to the fifth phase of his reopening plan. But the plan left the door open for the state to clamp down again “if over 10 days the trend of new cases increases and at least one of the following is true: hospital ICU availability is below 20%, there is a significant increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, or total COVID-19 patients in the hospital.”

ICU bed availability remains above 20% statewide, and the governor’s office and the department of public health didn’t respond directly to a question about what is considered “a significant increase” for new hospitalizations or the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital.

“During the previous pandemic surges, (Pritzker) was laser focused on ensuring that our health care system and hospitals weren’t overwhelmed and that will continue to be his guiding light as he evaluates the need for mitigations,” Bittner said.

The state continues to urge all eligible residents to get vaccinated as “the single most effective way to prevent serious illness and death,” she said.

With California, New York City and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday announcing vaccination mandates for employees, and with private hospitals and other employers requiring workers to get the shot, “the administration is also reviewing its options for mandating vaccines, particularly for state employees who work in congregate or health care settings,” Bittner said.

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