Keep your masks handy, because you're going to need them for the foreseeable future: City health officials have reinstated an indoor mask mandate for all Chicagoans ages 2 and up starting Friday, August, 20, regardless of vaccination status. That means you'll need to mask up in all public indoor settings, from grocery stores and gyms to bars and restaurants.
The news comes as Chicago's daily COVID-19 case rate hit 419 diagnoses per day on Monday, which exceeds the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention's threshold for "high" community transmission and marks the highest number of daily cases in Chicago since early May. Earlier this month, when case rates moved to the "substantial" category of more than 200 diagnoses per day, the Chicago Department of Public Health issued a mask recommendation for indoor settings. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot hinted at the return of a mask mandate in a July interview with the New York Times in which she said Chicago would bring back mandatory masking if COVID-19 case rates entered a "red zone."
"With that move into higher risk, we did want to take additional action," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said in a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
According to the new guidance, Chicagoans must wear face coverings in all public indoor settings—a list that includes bars and restaurants, gyms, common areas of living spaces like condos and apartment buildings and private clubs. Masks can be removed while eating or drinking as well for services like beard shaves or facials, or while working in a private office where six feet of distance between employees can be maintained.
The mandate will remain in effect until case rates once again fall below 400 diagnoses per day, at which point the city will return to a mask recommendation policy. Once case rates go below 200 diagnoses per day, the city will drop its mask recommendation.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases continue to surge throughout the country. Other U.S. cities and states, like Los Angeles and Louisiana, have already reinstated indoor mask mandates to tamp the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant. As of Friday, 39 states and three U.S. territories will be included in the city's emergency travel advisory list, which requires unvaccinated people to obtain a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine after travel to areas with high rates of transmission. Some hot spots, like Florida, are experiencing more than six times the rate of transmission than in Chicago.
Although diagnoses are increasing in Chicago, test positivity rate remains at a 4.3 percent, and the risk for serious illness—including hospitalization and death—remains most prominent for unvaccinated Chicagoans, Arwady said. For now, city officials say they don't anticipate adding additional restrictions, like capacity limits and other closures. Though hitting the 400-case threshold is "concerning," Arwady said, it's not yet "cause for alarm." However, she added that city health officials would reexamine Chicago's COVID-19 guidance if cases moved above 800 diagnoses per day.
"Our goal is to remain open, but careful," Arwady said.