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Gov. JB Pritzker plans to lift mask mandates for many public places – but not schools, source says

Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois

As hospitalizations continue to drop, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker intends Wednesday to announce a lifting of a universal indoor masking order for most public places except for schools, a source familiar with the plan confirmed Tuesday.

His immediate focus in easing COVID-19 mitigations will be in bars, restaurants, grocery stores, museums and other common indoor areas that draw traffic, which have all been under a mask mandate since August.

The governor is not expected to lift that requirement in schools, which also went into effect last August, though his authority to dictate classroom masking was dealt a legal blow last Friday. That’s when a Sangamon County judge issued a temporary restraining order against Pritzker’s school-masking mandate, a ruling that now is under appeal.

The change also won’t affect masking requirements in health care facilities, like hospitals and nursing homes, or on mass transit, the source said.

During an appearance in Springfield on Tuesday, the governor telegraphed his intentions to ease up somewhat on COVID-19 restrictions as hospitalizations have dropped by a robust 64% since hitting a high of 7,380 on Jan. 12, state public health data shows.

“I’m the first person who wants to be removing mitigations when we can to keep people safe and healthy,” the governor said, adding that he expected to be making an announcement “very soon.”

The move comes as Pritzker is under mounting public pressure to remove masking restrictions as Democratic governors across the nation have been doing. Just this week, New York, New Jersey, California, Delaware, Connecticut, Nevada and Oregon all announced plans to relax masking requirements.

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Dave McKinney | WBEZ