University of Chicago epidemiologist Emily Landon holds a cloth mask at Gov. J.B. Pritzker's May 19 press conference

Wearing a mask when outside the home or when near people outside will soon "be as natural as wearing pants," says University of Chicago Medical Center epidemiologist Emily Landon.

Speaking at Gov. J.B. Pritzker's May 19 COVID-19 press conferences as she has done sporadically since the crisis began, Landon urged the state to continue taking measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus ahead of the end of the stay-at-home order.

She thanked Illinoisans for their sensibility, selflessness and caution during the pandemic — even while many have wondered why the state's unprecedented public health measures have gone into effect "since nothing awful happened" to them personally.

"But like I said in March, this exactly is the mark of success," Landon said. "It's what a 'flat curve' looks like."

Things are not perfect, and infected Illinoisans are still passing the disease to an average of one other person

"That means our case counts and hospital loads stay stable and somewhat predictable," Landon said. "We would love even less transmission, but this virus is tricky, and even keeping things flat has required huge sacrifices."

No emergent antiviral or vaccine will allow for a normal summer this year, Landon said, mourning the loss of days by the pool, block parties and a vacation. While there is a need to revive certain workplaces, there is also a risk in doing so.

"Our transmission balance is tenuous, and business as usual could set off another wave of infection that threatens our lives and our livelihoods," she said. "We need masks, we need hand hygiene, and we need distance to make this work."

Cloth masks are the state's "lifeline," said Landon, as people can spread the disease while they are asymptomatic. "Anyone could be contagious at any time," she continued. But masks help protect the wearer from contracting the airborne coronavirus and keep potentially disease-carrying respiratory droplets from being expelled into the air and surfaces.

But masks are not a cure-all; they cannot be worn while eating or drinking. So people must continue keeping a distance, staying home when possible and keeping their hands clean.

"This is a fight against a virus, not ideology, and I know many of you understand that," Landon said, predicting that listeners would lead families, communities and neighborhoods in wearing masks and staying home whenever possible to make space for essential workers. She urged people to wear masks proudly, "because it says to others you're not giving up and you're not giving in, because you're in this fight to win."

Northeast Illinois is currently meeting all benchmarks to enter Phase 3 of Pritzker's "Restore Illinois" plan. Should conditions stay the same or improve, all gatherings of 10 people or fewer would be allowed, and all health care providers would be open per Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines. All state parks will open. Retailers and personal care services will be allowed to open with IDPH-approved safety guidance.

Non-essential business employees would be allowed to return to work under IDPH guidance, though working from home would be advised. All Chicago Public Schools will remained physically closed through the end of the academic year. Bars and restaurants will be open only for delivery, pickup and drive-through service. Health and fitness clubs can provide only outdoor classes and one-on-one personal training.

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