Even though an Illinois appeals court ruling has dismissed Governor JB Pritzker’s appeal for a mask mandate in schools, some health officials and school districts are pushing universal masking as the best approach to fight against COVID-19.
In a statement Friday after the decision was announced, the Cook County Public Health Department said it continues to strongly recommend universal face coverings in PreK-12 schools.
Wearing masks reduces transmission of COVID-19, allowing districts to maintain in-person learning, health officials explained in the news release. Additionally, they claimed that masking is particularly important for younger age groups, especially children under 5 who are not eligible for vaccination.
The legal drama over masks in public schools has unfolded even as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations plunged after the omicron variant peaked last month. Last week, Pritzker announced he would lift the statewide indoor mask mandate on Feb. 28 — but not for schools.
Just before midnight Thursday, a three-member panel of the Illinois Fourth District Court of Appeals denied the governor’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling against a mask mandate in schools, writing that the request is “not applicable” because the governor’s COVID-19 emergency rules already expired.
In their decision, the appeal court judges wrote that there was no “real controversy” to be resolved.
“Because the emergency rules voided by the TRO are no longer in effect, a controversy regarding the application of those rules no longer exists.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 case is moot,” the justices wrote.
The appeals court weighed in about two weeks after Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order invalidating the school mask mandate, along with several other emergency orders, including vaccination requirements for school employees. Pritzker implemented the vaccine mandate at the start of the school year.
Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, also reaffirmed its commitment to universal face coverings and other COVID mitigation measures.
“These safety measures 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 we are advised by our public health partners that the restrictions can be safely lifted.”
Several districts in the state have chosen to go mask-optional, remove all requirements, or strongly recommend masks.