CHICAGO, Ill. (WMBD) — A big announcement about masks was made by Gov. JB Pritzker (D) Wednesday.

Beginning Feb. 28, masks will no longer be required for Illinoisans, unless they are in a school or a long-term care facility.

Mask requirements will continue where federally mandated, such as on public transit and in high-risk settings including healthcare facilities and congregate care. Masking requirements will also continue to apply in all daycare settings. 

Pritzker first made the mask mandate on May 1, 2020, and it expired the following March. However, in August 2021, the governor issued a second mandate that would require everyone indoors to wear masks after state hospitalizations rose.

This resulted in Illinois ending 2021 with fewer hospitalizations per capita than anywhere else in the Midwest, he said.

“Our approach has saved lives and kept our economy growing,” he said.

Now, Illinois has now seen the fastest rate of decline in COVID-19 metrics since the pandemic began, Pritzker said. Illinois now has 20% of ICU beds available statewide, up from 8% four weeks ago.

Pritzker went on to say masks were an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and encouraged them when possible.

“Whether we remove masks or not, COVID-19 has not gone away,” he said, emphasizing Illinoisans still had a duty to protect those who are unvaccinated.

Dr. Ngozi O. Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the federal mask mandate will remain in place and encouraged the use of masks in crowded places.

“As we move forward in a world where we will co-exist with COVID, there are tools, [and] there are masks that will help prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed,” she said.

Vaccinations and therapeutics can also prevent the spread, she said. Ezike encouraged schools, workplaces, and businesses to look into upgrading the ventilation system to reduce infectious particles in the air.

“Our path forward includes keeping these tools that we have been talking about … and that includes masks, she said. “We can do these things, and we can co-exist with COVID.”

As previously reported, Pritzker announced the mandate made in August would also apply to schools, which were gearing up for a new year at that time.

That ruling was recently challenged by a Sangamon County judge, who issued a temporary restraining order on the governor’s mandate. However, Pritzker appealed.

“Judge Raylene Grischow’s ruling is out of step with the vast majority of legal analysis in Illinois and across the nation,” Pritzker said, claiming her ruling “cultivates chaos.”

An expected appellate court decision is due by Feb. 17.   

In-person learning is what is best for students, Pritzker said, and outbreaks affect everyone.

“Our goal is to maintain a healthy in-person learning environment for kids, teachers, and staff,” he said.

Pritzker said he’s happy kids would like to see the mask mandate go away, and he would like it to go away as soon as possible. However, he feels the advice of doctors and epidemiologists needs to be followed.

“We need to listen to the scientists. This is about community health and keeping communities safe,” he said. “The metrics show that we have.”