Due to a change in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local coronavirus conditions, the Chicago Department of Public Health is recommending everyone over the age of two wear a mask in indoor public settings, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated.
Masking remains optional outdoors.
On July 27, the CDC updated guidance that everyone should wear a mask in indoor public places with substantial and high transmission of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the highly transmissible and more deadly delta variant of the novel coronavirus.
Chicago now has substantial transmission of the coronavirus: more than 200 new COVID-19 cases per day. The CDPH is recommending all businesses, employers and event organizers require universal masking in public indoor settings.
“We are taking this step to prevent further spread of the very contagious Delta variant and to protect public health,” said CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady in a statement. “This isn’t forever, but it is necessary to help decrease the risk for all Chicagoans right now.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said that 99% of COVID-19 deaths in Illinois are occuring in unvaccinated individuals.
On June 30, CDC officials released a study of a cluster of COVID-19 infections in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a tourist spot at the tip of Cape Cod, in which 900 people got the coronavirus over the Fourth of July weekend. Of the 469 cases that investigators researched, 346 occurred in fully vaccinated people, 80% of whom experienced symptoms.
Amid the spread of the delta variant, CDC found that breakthrough infections among vaccinated people are rare, but they do happen, and vaccinated people infected with the coronavirus can spread the disease. As the percentage of people in a population who are vaccinated increases, the percentage of people who get infected who also are also vaccinated will, by necessity, also increase.
Provincetown Town Manager Alex Morse said on social media that only seven of the infections were bad enough to require hospitalizations, adding that positivity in the town peaked at 15% on July 15 and was 4.8% on July 29.
Tens of thousands of people came to Provincetown over the Fourth of July weekend. Massachusetts' aged-12-and-over vaccination rate is 69%. Only around 900 people contracted COVID-19 in the Provincetown cluster, The Associated Press reports.
"The outbreak is contained, and Provincetown is safe," said Morse. "Indoor masking is helpful during a spike but not a sustainable long term solution. Vaccination is. More and more businesses here are mandating employee and customer vaccination."
Unvaccinated people who have not been infected by the coronavirus remain defenseless against COVID-19 and can spread the disease to other unvaccinated people, including children, immunocompromised people for whom the vaccine may not offer full protection and unlucky vaccinated people who get breakthrough infections.
There is no cure for COVID-19, which can turn into "long COVID" or cause death. The CDC recommends that everyone aged 12 and older get a safe and effective vaccine against the disease as soon as possible.
Asked at a July 27 press conference about the Provincetown cluster and associated breakthrough infections, Arwady said that highly vaccinated networks are generally protective against the spread of the coronavirus, but not 100% protective.
"We've continued here in Chicago to see these vaccines be very protective, but they're not 100%," she said.
At that press conference, before CDPH issued its recommendation that everyone, vaccinated or not, begin wearing masks indoors in public again, Arwady said that she wears a mask in indoor settings unless she knows that everyone is vaccinated.
In San Francisco, meanwhile, hundreds of bars and restaurants have gathered together to restrict entry to those who can produce a three-day-recent negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination. Some Lakeview gay bars have begun doing the same.
Arwady acknowledged then that some individual settings in Chicago have required proof-of-vaccination to get in but said it has not been widely adopted here. She said the conversation about vaccine passports has ebbed and grown; as rates rise and fall and winter lurk, she supposes there is more appetite among businesses to check people's statuses.
"I think it's another 'watch this space' in terms of how we continue to see conversations evolve," she said.