Even though an Illinois appellate court ruling dismissed Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s appeal for a mask mandate in schools, some health officials and school districts insist universal masking in the best approach to combat COVID-19.
In a statement Friday after the decision was announced, the Cook County Department of Public Health said it continues to strongly recommend universal masking in PreK-12 schools.
Wearing masks reduces transmission of COVID-19, therefore allowing districts to maintain in-person learning in, health officials explained in the news release. Furthermore, they asserted masking is particularly important for younger age groups, especially children under age 5 who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated.
The legal drama over masks in public schools has unfolded even as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have plunged after the omicron variant’s peak last month. Last week, Pritzker announced he would lift the statewide indoor mask mandate on Feb. 28 — but not for schools.
Just before midnight on Thursday, a three-member panel of the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court rejected the govenror’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling against a mask mandate in schools, writing the request is “moot” because the governor’s emergency COVID-19 rules already expired.
In their decision, the appellate court justices wrote there is no “actual controversy” to decide.
“Because the emergency rules voided by the TRO are no longer in effect, a controversy regarding the application of those rules no longer exists. Thus, the matter is moot,” the justices wrote.
The appellate court weighed in about two weeks after Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order invalidating the school mask mandate, as well as several other emergency orders, including vaccine requirements for school employees. Pritzker implemented the vaccine mandate at the beginning of the school year.
Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, also reaffirmed its commitment to universal masking and other COVID mitigations.
“These safety measures are what have allowed us to provide our students with the in-person learning environment they need throughout this school year,” CPS said in a statement. “We will continue to follow these protocols until such time as our public health partners advise us that restrictions can be safely lifted.”
Several districts across the state have opted to go mask-optional, drop requirements all together or strongly recommend masks.