Chicago imposes an indoor mask mandate in hopes of reining in rising virus cases.

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U.S.|Chicago imposes an indoor mask mandate in hopes of reining in rising virus cases.

A church service at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago in May.
Credit...Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

Daniel E. Slotnik

  • Aug. 17, 2021, 5:01 p.m. ET

Chicago will reimpose an indoor mask mandate for all people older than two beginning on Friday, an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus as cases rise, the city’s commissioner of public health said on Tuesday.

Chicago, the nation’s third largest city, joins a growing list of metropolises like Los Angeles County, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco that now require masks in public indoor places.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance to recommend that everyone wear masks indoors in areas with high case numbers, regardless of their vaccination status.

A vast majority of counties across the United States are experiencing either “substantial” or “high” transmission, according to the C.D.C., and Cook County, which includes Chicago, is no exception.

Though cases have risen eightfold in Cook County since early July, when fewer than 100 cases were being reported most days, the outlook remains far better than in much of the rest of the country. On a per capita basis, Cook County is averaging fewer than half as many new cases as the country as a whole. An average of 17 cases per 100,000 residents are emerging each day in Cook County, compared to 43 cases per 100,000 people nationally and 138 cases per 100,000 people in Florida.

New York City, which began requiring proof of at least one vaccine dose on Tuesday to engage in many indoor activities, has not mandated masks indoors for vaccinated people — only recommended them. The mayor has said the city’s focus is on vaccinating the greatest share of its population possible.

Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s health commissioner, said at a news conference that she was watching how the vaccine requirements played out, but that the city would have to be at “much higher risk” before she would put one in place. Masks are recommended in some counties in Illinois and mandated in all public schools, and Chicago recently introduced strict vaccine rules for teachers.

Chicago’s new mask mandate applies to all people, regardless of their vaccination status, and covers all indoor public settings, including bars and restaurants, clubs and common areas of residential buildings, according to the city’s department of health. Masks are still required on public transportation, schools, health care, correctional and congregate living settings.

Masks are not required outdoors, though they are recommended for unvaccinated individuals in crowded settings, and can be removed for eating and drinking, and for activities like a facial or shave at a salon or barber shop. They are not required in work places that are not open to the public, if employees’s job do not require them to move aroundand they can maintain at least six feet of separation from others.

The city’s recent rise in cases did not appear tied to any large events, like Lollapalooza, a four-day music festival that drew hundreds of thousands of people earlier this month, Dr. Arwady said. The mandate was put in place because the city’s daily average of new reported cases rose to more than 400 a day, and it will revert to a recommendation when average new cases drop below 400 for an extended period, she said.

“I don’t expect that this will be an indefinite, forever mask requirement,” Dr. Arwady said.

Requiring masks has become a hot-button political issue, and Republican governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas have forbidden local governments and school districts in their states from imposing mask mandates.

That has not stopped districts in those states from trying, and legal battles about the requirements are still playing out.

Mitch Smith contributed reporting.

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