Metro East residents share differing opinions, concerns over the end of Illinois’ mask mandate

The statewide Illinois mask mandate is officially set to expire at the end of the month.
The statewide Illinois mask mandate is officially set to expire at the end of the month.(KMOV)
Published: Mar. 1, 2022 at 2:17 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - The statewide Illinois mask mandate is officially set to expire at the end of the month.

On Wednesday, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announce plans to phase out the state’s mask mandate so long as COVID-19 cases continue to decline. The mandate will end on February 28th, and it will mainly affect places like restaurants, malls, bars and other local businesses.

“We have reached a point where we can take another step towards getting back to life before the pandemic,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “While masks will no longer be required in most indoor locations beginning Monday February 28th, we want to be clear that they are still highly recommended. There are places where in fact the mask is still required. The federal government still requires it in transportation, airplanes, trains, buses, [and] subways.”

Pritzker and his team indicated that removing the statewide mask mandate will not impact school because they are under a separate mandate currently being challenged in the courts. The governor says schools are still vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 and keeping masks in place gives districts more time for community infection rates to drop, for more students to become eligible for the vaccine, and for parents to vaccinate their kids.

“I believe that people should continue to wear their mask,” said Larita Rice-Barnes, the Executive Director for the Metro East Organizing Coalition.

Rice-Barnes says she is upset the state is removing its mask mandate because she feels like transmission rates in the Metro East are still too high. As a comparison the current positivity rate for the Metro East region (Region 4) is around 11.4 percent. For Chicago (in Region 11), it is about 3.4 percent.

“Metro east has been a hot spot for COVID. We’ve had a high positivity rate continuously, and we’ve had multiple outbreaks that have continued to happen in our schools here,” said Rice-Barnes.

Other people say it is about time residents have more choice.

“I’m not a masker...I never have. I’ve always believed in the natural immunity side,” said Patrick James, a Metro East resident. “If folks want to wear a mask then put it on. If it makes you feel better put it on. but don’t chastise folks that don’t.”

“It seems like we’re finally getting back to some normalcy here,” said. Sam Toia, President and CEO of the Illinois Restaurants Association.

Toia believes restaurants have not only suffered from the recent wave in COVID-19 cases, but also resistance from patrons refusing to wear a mask. Now, these establishments will have the choice on whether to enforce their own mask policies.

“Restaurant owners and operators need to distinguish if eliminating the masks is good for their team members and guests,” said Toia. “If they want to keep it in place keep it in place.”

For some residents, they say it could be a dealbreaker if certain businesses continue to require masks beyond February 28.

“I will not patronize…no way,” said James. “There’s businesses out here that are hurt severely...due to the mandates that have been put in place.”

Some residents believe this announcement will not make a big difference in the community, as people have already started shedding their use of the mask.

“I guess for official purposes, he has to announce that its ending, and that will affect some places,” said Chris Viox, a Glen Carbon resident.

News 4 reached out to local grocery store chains on whether this will affect their mask policies. Schnucks says they will still be requiring all teammates and vendor partners to wear face coverings in stores regardless of vaccination status, and customers will be strongly encouraged to wear them.

Meanwhile, a Dierbergs spokesperson sent the following statement:

It’s been our approach to adhere to the mandates and public orders put in place by local officials. As those are modified, we will absolutely re-evaluate.