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Mandate no more: Illinois ends mask requirement for most indoor spaces

The need for face coverings in most indoor spaces in Illinois was ending as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic eases.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The need for face coverings in most indoor spaces in Illinois ended Monday, Feb. 28 as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic eases across the state.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier announced that he would lift the mandate for masks to slow the spread of the deadly virus as the numbers of new cases and hospitalizations fall. He intended that the requirement remain in effect for schools, where students and staff are more closely congregated, but other government action has invalidated that order.

The governor's office released an updated executive order Feb. 28, saying the lifted mandate is in accordance with CDC guidance. Masks won't be enforced in K-12 schools and day cares, but school districts and private business can still require face coverings at their own discretion.

Long-term care facilities will need to continue following the guidance of the CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health for mask requirements.

The state of Illinois holds the highest percentage of residents who have received a COVID-19 vaccine and the highest percentage of fully vaccinated people ages 5 to 17, according the governor's office.

“Across the state, Illinoisans are taking their masks off today knowing that most eligible adults are boosted, and our hospitals have much more capacity to save lives,” Pritzker said in a statement Monday. “I’m proud that Illinoisans have done the hard work that has made our state a leader in the Midwest, with more of our residents vaccinated than any other state in the region."

RELATED: Illinois school mask mandate to be lifted, Gov. Pritzker says

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said last week that the city would also lift its mask mandate Monday, along with a requirement that people show proof of vaccination at places such as restaurants.

An appellate court last week declined to render a decision on a lower-court ruling that invalidated Pritzker's order that public schools require masks. The 4th District Appellate Court decided the issue was moot  after a legislative committee nixed an extension of the emergency rule the governor imposed on schools last summer. The Democratic governor appealed the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Masks will remain the rule on the state House floor, where they've been challenged by Republicans. The Legislature has planned an abbreviated spring session that's scheduled to end in early April. 

Democratic House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch told members he doesn't want to risk an outbreak which would derail work or worse, jeopardize family members of lawmakers who are immunocompromised or too young to be vaccinated. 

RELATED: CDC eases mask guidelines for more than 70% of Americans

The requirement has led to the regular removal from the floor of up to eight Republicans for refusing to comply, including Rep. Blaine Wilhour of Beecher City, who filed a lawsuit against Welch.

State Senate officials are evaluating options.

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