Pritzker asked what COVID-19 measure will let Illinoisans ditch masks

Pritzker asked what COVID-19 measure will let Illinoisans ditch masks

A state lawmaker has asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker for the metrics needed to drop statewide mask mandates. He also called for public hearings on masking harms to student development, others in Illinois.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker had a five and one-half phase plan for reopening Illinois with specific measures to say when the COVID-19 pandemic was receding enough to let life become more normal, but he’s shared no measures about when his current statewide mask mandates will be eased or lifted.

So state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, asked Pritzker for some specifics and transparency on ending COVID-19 mitigation strategies, such as indoor masking regardless of vaccination status, school mask mandates and broad economic restrictions.

Batinick also suggested Illinois stop using statewide mandates, and embrace a localized approach.

“If the public can go to their representative and their representative can sit in committee and they can talk about what they’ve heard, there’s a little more buy-in from the public and they’re likely to trust the mitigations,” Batnick told The Center Square.

In his letter to Pritzker, Batinick also argued Illinois could respond to outbreaks more quickly using localized data, reducing the need for intrusive public policy in everyday life.

The letter noted Pritzker’s economic restrictions of 2020, such as the decision to unilaterally close indoor dining, used a metrics-based tier system, considering data from various regions of the state. Illinois’ current school mask mandate has no such system.

Responding to Batinik’s letter, Prtizker’s office said he does have metrics in mind for relaxing the school mask mandate, but avoided offering specific details.

Factors that could lead to the tapering of the mandate included “a significant reduction in transmission, the availability and utilization of vaccines for school-aged children under 12, an improving vaccination rate for children 12 to 17 and for adults that interact with the school community, and/or additional guidance from the CDC,” Pritzker said in his response.

The prospect of using localized data to relax mandates “would be inaccurate, unfair, and unworkable,” Pritzker wrote. “For example, to tell kids that masks can be off on Tuesday only to put them back on by Thursday” would trigger never-ending chaos until herd immunity is achieved.

While Batinik said he thought the letter was thoughtful, he said after nearly 20 months of restrictions, public hearings are needed to examine their consequences.

“I was the first state elected official to push for the use of face masks,” Batinik said. But “there are downsides for younger children wearing masks. For example, social-emotional learning is directly tied to facial expressions.”

Pritzker’s letter reiterated that Illinois will continue to follow the CDC guidance on masks in schools. Currently, the CDC “recommends” masks in schools, but Pritzker turned that into a statewide mandate just weeks after saying it should be a local decision.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, Pritzker has declared a statewide COVID-19 disaster 20 times, giving himself the ability to make state law on his own with 80 executive orders during the past 20 months. Pritzker has declined to specify how many Illinoisans would need to be vaccinated to lift the state’s disaster status.

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