Chicago public and charter schools also leave mask mandates in place
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The state of Illinois along with Chicago officially lifted their indoor mask mandates, with the city also ending its proof of vaccination requirement.
Most indoor places are moving forward with lifting mask requirements beginning Monday.
"Hospitalizations are way down, cases are way down, and we hope that we can sustain that for the spring and summer and, frankly, forever more," said Gov. JB Pritzker at Navy Pier Monday.
The move affects restaurants, bars, gyms and stores. Still some businesses said they'll let staff decide whether they want to go maskless or not.
At the Cheetah Gym in Andersonville, the sign is up and the choice is up to customers when it comes to masking. But showing proof of vaccination is still required at the gym.
For some, it's a nice change.
"I feel naked but it feels good," said gym member Jackie Rasmussen. "I can't complain."
"I set up my first appointment today because I didn't have to wear a mask. Otherwise, I don't think I would have come," said Stephanie Letchinger, gym member.
"I do cardio in the morning sometimes and I haven't been able to run, I've been only doing walking because running with a mask is a little bit, it's not optimal," said gym member Rick McEachern.
For others, they plan to keep their masks on for a while.
"I care about protecting other people. I teach at Northwestern and have a higher exposure risk," said Justin Mann. "I feel like it's important to be conscious of what I could be putting out in the world."
Some venues said they will keep their requirements for now. Broadway in Chicago as well as Symphony Center and the Lyric Opera will continue to require masks, and proof of vaccination for audience members. The United Center is also keeping a requirement to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
"We're sitting next to strangers that we don't know, so it is the safest thing," said theatergoer Kevin Parliament.
Masks will also still be required in hospitals, public transit, prisons, jails, and in Chicago Public Schools.
Private and charter schools are also choosing to keep masks mandatory. The Noble Network of Charter Schools, which serves close to 13,000 students in 18 schools across the city, is among them.
"To come out today and say the state policy has changed so Noble's policy has changed is inconsistent in what we have done over the last couple years," said president Mike Madden.
Madden said what Noble has done is make decisions based on the latest information, healthcare providers, experts and families. The system is sending surveys to parents to get feedback before lifting their mask mandate.
"You have to have the voices of families in these decisions, we are responsible for their children when they are with us and when they give us the level of trust they also have trust going to get their feedback in incredibly important decisions," he said.
A parent survey is not part of the plan for CPS< who told parents in an email Sunday night that masking remains as the district reviews the latest guidance from the CDC. Mask mandates are also a part of safety agreements with the Chicago Teachers Union, but CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady is hopeful the school mask mandate will be lifted soon.
"I think especially when we look at settings that are higher vaccinated, those are settings where I very much hope as time moves on we'll be able to lift," she said.
Some parent groups are urging CPS to keep the masks on until more CPS students are vaccinated and to protect kids with health risks.
"Our special education students deserve to feel safe in school not to be constantly pushed aside for the sake of normalcy or for the sake of comfort," said parent Leigh Mabry White.
Neither CPS or Noble Charter Schools are giving timetables are when decisions will be made on masks, but both said if all goes well, mandates will likely be lifted before the end school year.
Some people said in larger crowds they will choose to keep their masks on for now.
"There is so many people in and out all the time, it's kind of scary to wonder if not everybody is vaccinated, if they are being honest about staying safe and using the precautions they should," said Joe Neal.
"When we walk into a situation, we will check to see what the environment is and then decide to take them off or keep them on," said Ruth McDuffie-Marks.
But for those who will be ditching their masks, health officials offered this advice.
"I would still recommend that if you are in indoor spaces, especially those that are crowded, that you put on a mask," said Dr. Rachel Rubin, Cook County Department of Health.
A group called "The People's Response Network to COVID-19" held a rally outside of city hall- they are worried over a possible new subvariant of omicron and say they believe the mask mandates are being lifted prematurely.
"A lot of people are hoping this is over and I'm here to tell you it's not," said Jesu Estrada, People's Response Network to COVID-19. "We are still living in a pandemic."
Navy Pier is offering free rides on the Centennial Wheel to celebrate the lifting of the mask mandate. But first, you have to flash that smile that's been hidden under your mask for so long.
Everyone who takes part will get a free souvenir photo. The happy faces will also be displayed on the hub of the wheel this month.
The "Smile to Ride" event runs from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.