Illinois Mask Mandate Ends, Except in Schools


Latin plans for the future of COVID policies as guidelines for the city of Chicago change.

With the rapid decline of Illinois COVID hospitalizations since mid-January, Governor J.B. Pritzker lifted the mask mandate on Monday in all indoor spaces except for schools. Earlier this week, Head of School Randall Dunn announced that Latin would remain mask-mandatory for now, despite other private schools planning to ease masking rules.

In his letter to the community, Mr. Dunn said, “We ask for patience as we consider the impacts of the updated guidance on the Latin community, including our students, faculty and staff, as well as update our own protocols and expectations.” He also added that the Latin School Union asked to discuss the potential shift.

Gov. Pritzker’s decision to exclude schools from the mandate lift has been controversial, leading to legal challenges from parents from over 140 school districts in Illinois. Nevertheless, as Gov. Pritzker said, “Schools need a little more time for community infection rates to drop, for our youngest learners to become vaccine eligible, and for more parents to get their kids vaccinated.”

State officials are appealing the temporary restraining order a judge granted against the Pritzker administration that ruled school masking requirements in Illinois COVID policy “null and void.”

Latin’s Senior Medical Consultant Dr. Leslie Cordes said, “Similar to other schools, Latin is evaluating the mask requirement and is currently considering the guidance most appropriate to our school community.”
Of other schools’ decisions, Dr. Cordes said, “As long as key metrics—perhaps most significant being the stress on the medical system (available hospital beds, hospital staffing)—are considered, then in the current phase of the pandemic, I defer to the schools’ medical advisory teams to make decisions appropriate to the community.”

Upper School English teacher Jim Joyce had mixed feelings on the mask mandate removal and the possibility of Latin’s mask requirements easing in the future. “Given the number of times I have to ask students to wear their masks properly, and seeing as we do not, so far as I know, have a habit of administering detentions, I guess this news of lifting the mask mandate hits me with a mix of relief and weariness,” he said. He summed up his reaction with the “shrug emoji.”

Senior Mia Wolniak agreed with Mr. Joyce’s points. “I have at least one person in most of my classes who consistently has their mask under their nose, and we’re all very close to each other during lunch,” she said.

Although Latin’s COVID-19 Policies & FAQ for 2021-2022 states that “safe in-person learning depends on universal mask-wearing indoors at school,” students have not consistently met these expectations. Still, Latin’s reported COVID cases have followed a similar trend to those of the city at large. Mia added, “For me personally, the thought of a mask-optional policy doesn’t garner a particularly horrifying response.”

The possibility of a COVID spike following the lift of the mask mandate has made many Chicagoans apprehensive, though. Mia said she will most likely continue wearing a mask for at least the first month after. “In part, because I’m still uneasy about being exposed, but also just because it is a force of habit,” she said.

Dr. Cordes acknowledged that the course of the virus has been historically difficult to predict. “We continue to monitor for emerging variants and remain ready to revise guidance as needed, but given what we know about circulating variants at this time, I do not anticipate significant spikes secondary to lifting mask mandates,” she said. “The true risk of acquiring a COVID-19 infection is decreasing.”

Junior Elro Starr has hopes that the new guidance from the city of Chicago will lead to a natural progression of going back to “normal.” Elro said, “Most people, over 70% in Illinois, are vaccinated, so I think it is safe now as long as everyone quarantines when they’re sick.”

In addition to the uptick of vaccinations, daily COVID cases in Illinois fell from 55,000 on January 4 to just over 2,000 on February 24. Hospitalization counts have continued to drop well after the peak in January, down 39% from President’s Day weekend.

Dr. Cordes added, “If and when a decision to move to mask-optional is made, it will be clearly communicated to families.” As for advice on wearing a mask with the new mask rules, “I would not impose any requirements for members of the Latin community other than to adhere to measures appropriate to their specific situation,” she said.
Elro said, “I’m happy to see the world heading back towards how things were pre-pandemic. I want it to be as close to normal as possible, because school and education was the part of my life most affected by COVID.”