J.B. Pritzker.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday afternoon that the state’s masking requirement for indoor locations, including restaurants, bars, stores, and gyms, will be lifted on Feb. 28, assuming COVID-19 cases continue to decrease.

However, because Evanston has its own health department, the local mask requirement would still remain unless city leaders decide to cancel it.

Evanston’s COVID case levels have dropped dramatically in recent days, but the seven day rolling average of new cases is still higher than it was during the late 2020 pandemic peak.

Evanston imposed the indoor mask rule in August. The city’s website states that “The City’s order will remain in place until the City’s Department of Health and Human Services determines that the threat to public health has diminished to the point that the order can be repealed.”

A sign of the times at an Evanston store.

The same thing is true for Evanston’s proof-of-vaccination rule for indoor dining, which was implemented by the city in January.

Evanston Now has asked the Health Department what may happen here next.

COVID cases have also declined dramatically in District 65 schools.

The governor’s announcement does not cover schools. He said the hope is to lift the school mask requirement within weeks after February 28, again, depending on COVID cases and hospitalization rates, but no specific date was given.

Drops have also been seen at ETHS and at Northwestern University.

Pritzker criticized a Springfield judge’s recent ruling against the school mask mandate, saying “schools are unlike most other environments,” due to many children not being vaccinated, and close quarters despite efforts to social distance.

The state is appealing that ruling.

The two Evanston school districts, 202 and 65, both say the Springfield decision does not apply here, as the local districts were not defendants in the anti-mask lawsuit.

Individual businesses are still free to require masks, even if the state and localities with their own policies drop the mandate.

Masks will still be required in congregate settings such as common areas of nursing homes. They are also still federally mandated on buses, trains, and airplanes.

Pritzker said a 66% drop in COVID-related hospitalizations shows that the trend is going in the right direction.

However, he also pointed out that “COVID-19 has not gone away,” so people should get vaccinated and boosted, and also can continue to wear masks, even if it’s not required.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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