As city, state plan to follow CDC guidance on masks, businesses and residents are hesitant

Chicago mask mandate? City officials said they will broadly follow new guidance, with some exceptions

Friday, May 14, 2021
Indoor masks guidance relaxed, but at different paces
To mask or not to mask? While the CDC has updated its guidance, not every state or city is moving at the same pace, not not everyone is ready to shed the shield.

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- As the city and state plan to follow the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask-wearing guidance, some Illinois businesses and residents are hesitant to ditch masks completely.

The CDC eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people on Thursday, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

The guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters but it will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues - even removing the need for social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.

RELATED: What fully vaccinated people can, cannot do according to CDC's new mask guidelines

"We have all longed for this moment - when we can get back to some sense of normalcy," said Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at an earlier White House briefing.

Gov. JB Pritzker said Illinois will follow the CDC guidance, which lets vaccinated people ditch the mask indoors - most of the time.

Gov. JB Pritzker quickly followed with an announcement that Illinois will abide by the new CDC guidance.

RELATED: CDC: Fully vaccinated people can ditch masks indoors - most of the time

Spokespeople for the city of Chicago also indicated they will broadly follow the new guidance, though there may be some additional categories in which mask-wearing for vaccinated people will be expected to continue.

Chicago Public Schools said they will continue to abide by the CDC's K-12 school guidelines and the state and city's guidance for schools, which continues to recommend universal masking until more staff, teachers and students are vaccinated.

But not everyone was ready to ditch the pieces of fabric and paper that have been shields against a pandemic for 14 months.

"I think because we've all be in this lockdown for so long, it still feels like a shock to transition to a new normal again," said Liz Robbins, who was with her kids in Lincoln Park's Oz Park.

"Our kids still need to wear one, so I kind of was questioning what model am I supposed to set for them?" she said. "They're young enough where they can be confused and ask why I'm not wearing one but they should still be wearing one."

Fully vaccinated parent Chris Koenig said he's keeping his mask on in public until his 6-year-old son Ethan and 4-year-old daughter Hannah can get their vaccines.

"It's tough to explain to the kids as well how we can take our masks off but we can keep them on. So it's a difficult message to get across to them," he said.

Reactions to news that fully vaccinated people can go unmasked in most situations are very different, and Northwestern Psychiatrist Dr. Aderonke Pederson said that's OK.

Even for vaccinated people, "it's hard to process going from, 'if you take off your mask you might harm yourself, you might harm your loved ones, you might harm people around you,' to overnight, 'take off your masks you're going to be fine.'"

She said we should give each other the space and time to adjust.

"When we see someone wearing a mask or not wearing a mask we don't know what's going on behind their decision and it's important we're not judging each other at this time," she said.

Nancy Smith lost her sister to COVID.

"She was only 61 years old. And she passed away... It got her lungs really bad," she said.

Smith is thrilled to ditch her mask, but understands, it's a choice.

"What anybody decides to do is fine. There's no right or wrong," she said.

Adding to some of that confusion are local requirements in Chicago and Cook County to keep masking and social distance indoors in many public places, like restaurants when you're not eating, even for vaccinated people.

That may change soon as they and the state adjust to the new CDC guidelines.

Business owners currently have no way to immediately know if someone who is not wearing a mask is, in fact, actually vaccinated. Some said they plan to keep the signs on their doors and maintain their mask-wearing rules.

For some, it's a good sign, but they're not letting their guard down, yet.

"I'm a little relieved I can use my judgment now and go out and feel a little more relieved that we are headed in the right direction," said Linda Rivera, who plans to continue wearing her mask.

In Evanston, Chris Griffin will also keep wearing his mask.

"Not knowing who is and who isn't (vaccinated), I understand that if I do get it I'll be asymptomatic, and I shouldn't get affected, but I'm more worried about spreading it to someone that is not yet vaccinated," he said.

Jenny Washburn feels the same way.

"It's a nice way to start to lift the restrictions; if the CDC says its okay, then I'm for it, but I want to be respectful of people who aren't vaccinated and might be nervous about it and also following the company's guidelines with masks and things like that," she said.

Some doctors and medical experts have concerns as well.

Dr. Allison Bartlett, an epidemiologist at Comer Children's Hospital, is concerned that the relaxed mask guidelines could lead to another possible surge. Her hope is that it will encourage more people to get vaccinated.

"I don't know how powerful of an incentive it's going to be to get vaccinated and then not have to wear your mask when you could honestly lie and say you're vaccinated, and not wear your mask," she said.

Illinois and Chicago move into the Bridge Phase of reopening Friday. Moving into the phase requires 70% of Illinoisans 65 and older to have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. As of Wednesday's reporting, 80.98% of people 65 and older in the state have received at least one dose.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.