Illinois mask mandate won't be lifted anytime soon, Gov. Pritzker says 1 year into COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- One year ago, Illinois reported its first death from COVID-19. Since then, nearly 21,000 people have died in the state and there have been more than 1.2 million cases.

Gov. JB Pritzker sat down for a one-on-one interview Monday to talk about the pandemic that has consumed him for the past year.

"Well, starting from the very beginning, this has been a sprint and a marathon at the same time," Pritzker said.

Since then, the governor has issued 14 disaster declarations that included the initial stay-at-home order that led to deserted streets, shuttered businesses and transformed everyday life with the mask mandate. And while other states are lifting theirs, don't expect that to happen here anytime soon.

"As you've seen, we've altered the disaster declaration over time and as things get better, we've loosened up the mitigations that we've put on businesses and on people across the state. Masks though, that will stay in place for some time now," Pritzker said.

Republicans have complained frequently that Pritzker has left lawmakers out of the decision-making process during the pandemic. They've now introduced a bill to require legislative approval for emergency declarations extended past 30 days.
Pritzker would not commit to supporting that bill.

"What I can tell you is that we got a lot of input from the legislature, number one, and number two, when you're in an emergency and things are changing quickly, it's very hard to seek the approval of a sometimes disjointed General Assembly," Pritzker said.

In hindsight, the governor said there are some things he might have done better, but there are no real regrets.

"I know that leadership is about making sure that we're making their lives better and keeping them alive and keeping them safe and I've tried to do that every single day," Pritzker said, adding there were times thinking about all the people getting sick and dying kept him up at night.

WATCH | Gov. Pritzker discusses when life could return to normal
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Gov. JB Pritzker says we need to get closer to herd immunity before things return to normal.



"And that weighs on me every day, honestly," he said.

Does he have any regrets about how he's handled the pandemic?

"You know, I'm sure...that I could look back on this year. And if I knew then what I know now, I might have made some different choices along the way," Pritzker said.

As for when things might return to normal?

"You know, I listen to the experts when I try to make a judgment about that and what they're telling me is that we need to get close to herd immunity for us to really be normal," Pritzker said.

He said that will be whenever we get about 80% of the state vaccinated. Right now, we're at 12%.

One of the biggest crises of the last year is the state's failure in helping those who have lost jobs due to the economic impact of the pandemic. Despite improvements, call centers are still way behind in returning calls, with people being told they will hear back in two weeks.

"It should be much faster, no doubt," Pritzker said.

The governor said the state will continue to take a cautious approach when it comes to reopening, but as more people get vaccinated, mitigations can continue to be eased as Illinois begins year two of the pandemic.
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