As Illinois Covid Numbers Drop, Lawsuits And Protests Challenge Mask Mandate
UPDATED: With Illinois covid-19 infections, hospitalizations and average numbers dropping to new lows across the board, state residents are calling for an end to the statewide mask mandate and other restrictions, with some protesting and suing to end them — particularly in schools.
The latest numbers from the Illinois Department of Public Health continue the trend over the past week of showing dipping cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, seeming to confirm what some officials have said, that the omicron surge has passed.
“Over the last two years, I’ve said over and over that you don’t know when a surge has reached its peak until you’re on the other side of it,” Pritzker said during a recent covid update. However, the daily trends this week seem to be showing that the state is definitely on the other side of at least the omicron surge, as daily infections have gone from highs of over 40,000 to under 10,000, and hospitalizations have likewise dropped.
There are 5,238 people are hospitalized with covid statewide, the lowest number since December 27, according to IDPH numbers released today.
In addition, new cases are 9,462, their lowest since Dec. 19; average daily cases are 25,052, lowest since Jan. 4; 905 ICU patients are the lowest since Christmas Day.
The only number that’s going up are the average daily deaths of 120, which is the highest it’s been since January 2021, before vaccines were widely available. Sadly, the vast majority of the deaths are unvaccinated people, according to IDPH statistics. The number of deaths is expected to increase as it lags behind the infection numbers, which peaked last week and didn’t start to drop until last weekend.
As the numbers get better, officials still haven’t committed to a removal of the state mask mandate and other restrictions, and Illinois residents are beginning to protest to end the restrictions, particularly in schools. A group of over 700 parents has also filed a class action lawsuit to remove the mask and testing mandate from Illinois schools.
Sangamon County judge is considering a motion to block Illinois schools from requiring people to wear face masks in classes and excluding students and staff from school buildings if they’ve had close contact with someone who has tested positive for covid.
Greenville attorney Thomas DeVore is arguing that under the Department of Public Health Act, schools cannot exclude students for public health concerns without their parents’ consent or a quarantine order from a public health department.
“The plaintiffs have a right to insist the students not be excluded from school, and denied their right to an in-person education, except as provided by law,” the lawsuit states.
“Quite simply, the defendants are infringing upon the lawful right of the students, and of their parents or guardians, to be free to choose for themselves whether mask wearing as a treatment, or type of modified quarantine, for the purpose of limiting the spread of an infectious disease, is, absent a court order, appropriate,” the lawsuit states.
Officials are offering cautious optimism, happy that the numbers are going down, but still reminding people that the numbers are relatively high, especially when compared to just a month or two ago.
“I am very, very pleased to say that we have formally passed the omicron peak here in the city of Chicago,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.
Arwady said the city will be lifting restrictions “at some point,” but said it depended on the numbers continuing to go down.
“When we get back down into that sort of moderate-low risk, we will not have the vaccination requirements in place because the vaccination requirement is in place in high risk settings and that setting is especially high risk when the numbers are high, etc., etc.,” Arwady said. “However, the timing of that? I don’t know yet.”
“I want to be clear, I am cautiously optimistic, but there are an awful lot of people battling for their lives in hospitals across Illinois,” Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said.
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the key metric they are watching now is not the number of cases, but hospitalizations.
“They are decreasing, but those numbers are still high,” Ezike said. “The numbers of people in the hospital with covid are still higher now than they have been in any other surge or any other part of the pandemic. But the good news is the trend is downward.”
“It’s really important over these next few weeks and months that we continue to work hard on getting folks vaccinated, getting folks tested, continuing to wear our masks, because there is a long way to come down,” Arwady said. “However, I’m really pleased to have seen this turnaround.”
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