Cook County Issues New Guidelines Strongly Recommending Masks Be Worn Indoors Regardless of Vaccination Status

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

With COVID-19 rates rising and transmission now considered substantial in Cook County, it is again being recommended that everyone mask whenever indoors in public regardless of immunization status.

It seems like such a short time ago when it was first deemed safe to stop wearing masks while outside and then when it was finally believed to be safe for those who were fully vaccinated to not have to mask inside. It took me over a month before I didn't feel like I'd forgotten something important when walking outside without a mask even though I always had one with me. I was never fully confortable walking around in an indoor establishment without a mask on. The need for everyone to return to masking indoors in Cook County feels like a major step backwards just when we were beginning to feel like we'd turned the corner in terms of COVID-19.

In following with CDC guidelines regarding when to reconsider reverting to more strict COVID-19 mitigations, Cook County Health officials have just announced that they are recommending "universal masking," for everyone when indoors. This includes all of Chicago and surrounding areas.

This is due to the determination that the county is seeing "substantial" community transmission of COVID-19. The masking recommendation is not yet an executive order so as of now it is a "strong recommendation," for residents regardless of vaccination status. The CDC specifically stated that fully vaccinated people should return to wearing masks when indoors.

Cook County health officials were to issue the new mask recommendations Friday, explaining that it is imperitive that the county "must contain [COVID-19] through both vaccinations and prevention measures such as mask wearing indoors and in crowded outdoor settings."

As this isn't an official executive order, some businesses may choose not to require all those who enter the building to wear mask, continuing to ask that those who are not fully vaccinated do so. In these cases, it is up to each individual person to take the responsibility to mask regardless of the businesses policy to help slow further spread of the virus among the unvaccinated as well as those who are fully vaccinated.

The complete recommendations by the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) based on the CDC guidelines are as follows:

  • All those age 3 years of age and over should wear a mask any in indoor Public settings, regardless of vaccination status. 
  • Those who are fully-vaccinated and have been exposed to someone who is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 should be tested 3-5 days following the exposure and wear a mask indoors.
  • Those who are fully-vaccinated may choose to wear a mask outdoors when they are in a crowded setting. CCDPH fully endorses this action. 
  • Recommendations have not been altered for hose who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated. These individuals should wear masks indoors in public settings and outdoors when in a crowd. regardless of the reported community transmission level. 

CCDPH says it also is continuing to recommend its previous guidance that everyone in school settings
including teachers, staff, students, and visitors, should wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status and community transmission level.

Masks continue to be required for everyone ages 3 years and older on all public transportation or at any indoor transportation station, as well as in health care, senior living and long-term care settings, according to CCDPH.

Based on the increase in coronovirus cases in the state which were heavily contributed to by the delta variant, Illinois Governor, J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order Thursday afternoon which requires everyone entering any state building to wear a face mask that covers their nose and mouth regardless of vaccination status.

Based on the most up to date data published today representing transmissions levels for all the counties in Illinois, 84 out of 102 counties or about 82 percent had transmission rates considered to be substantial or high. Of the counties in Illinois, 18 or about 18 percent had rates that were moderate or low and of these only two counties, Jasper and Henderson, were reported to have low COVID transmission rates.

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