Gov. J.B. Pritzker adds child care centers to list of places where masks are no longer required

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday added child care centers to the list of public places where masks are no longer required, a move that his office said was the result of new federal guidelines issued late Friday.

Pritzker announced Feb. 9 that he would lift the mandate for most indoor public places at the end of the month, and he added schools to that list Friday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations and the Illinois Supreme Court overturned a lower court order that blocked enforcement of mask rules in schools.

But when he made the new masking rules official through an executive order Monday, day care centers were added to the list.

In making the change, the governor’s office cited the new CDC guidelines, which only recommend universal masking in areas where the agency says the coronavirus poses a “high” risk to the general public and the local health care system. Currently, more than three-quarters of Illinois counties are classified as “low” or “medium” risk.

The end of the mandate for day care centers comes as the majority of the children they serve — those 4 and younger — aren’t yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, though masks have never been recommended for those under 2.

The inclusion of day care centers appeared to surprise even those operating the Illinois Department of Public Health’s social media accounts, with the agency sending a Twitter message Monday listing day cares, along with hospitals and public transportation, as places where masks would still be necessary.

The agency later issued a correction, writing: “Effective today, Feb. 28, 2022, due to the CDC’s recommendation that masks are needed only in areas of high transmission, Governor J.B. Pritzker lifted the state’s indoor masking requirements, including the use of face coverings in day care settings.”

The CDC website does not address the change for child care centers specifically, saying only that the new “recommendations align precautions for educational settings with those for other community settings. CDC is in the process of updating this page with these new recommendations. Updates will be posted here when available.”

The CDC did not respond immediately Monday to a request for comment.

While day care centers weren’t addressed Friday during a conference call with reporters, Greta Massetti, of the CDC’s COVID-19 incident management team, cited the lower risk for children from COVID-19 in explaining the decision to include schools in the new guidelines.

“We’ve been reviewing the data on COVID illness in children for two years of the pandemic,” Massetti said. “And we have seen that although children can get infected and can get sick with COVID, they’re more likely to have asymptomatic or mild infections.”

Pritzker in October issued an executive order requiring an estimated 55,000 workers in 2,900 state-licensed day care centers to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 3 or undergo weekly testing.