The governor has decided that
to lighten the reins.
Governor JB Pritzker came out this week with what will certainly be considered a predominantly welcome announcement.
Among the most aggressive governors in the nation in terms of implementing coronavirus restrictions, the governor said he will lift his indoor mask mandate with effect from February 28th. Pritzker rejected proposals that he follow the example of other democratic governors for political reasons, and insisted his decision was motivated solely by the science surrounding coronavirus.
He noted that there has been a rapid decline in the number of patients admitted with the virus, most of them suffering from the omicron variant, since the highest level in mid-January.
“We are on our way to getting out on the other side of this latest COVID storm in better shape than even the doctors expected,” he said. “If these trends continue and we expect them to, then on Monday, February 28, we will lift the indoor mask requirement for the state of Illinois.”
Pritzker leaves schoolworm mandates in place, although his administration is contesting a court ruling that he has no legal authority to impose them.
While omicron is highly contagious, health authorities say the disease it causes is far less serious than its two predecessors. Nevertheless, a large number of people, the vast majority of them unvaccinated, have been affected.
However, the serious drop in the number of patients has led the health authorities to speculate that the variant is burning out. It sets the stage for the virus to retreat into the background and achieve a semi-permanent threat with lower status as influenza.
Among those who welcomed the governor’s decision was a group of Chicago rapporteurs who praised him for following what they called “science” in making his decision.
But what is “science” and what does it say?
Various interpretations led to pushback against Pritzker’s decision.
As is his habit, Pritzker dismissed those who disagreed as party-political knowledge best represented by Republican lawmakers who have been skeptical of his aggressive approach almost from the beginning of the pandemic.
“It’s hard to take them seriously at this point,” he said.
But Pritzker’s traditional political enemies are not his only skeptics.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it was too early to lift the mask mandates. Although the CDC is “encouraged” by current trends, Walensky said “our hospital admissions are still high, our death rates are still high.”
“We are not there yet,” she said.
Unlike Pritzker, other Democratic governors – New Jersey’s Phil Murphy and Connecticut’s Ned Lamont, to name two – phased out their mandates last week. They leave it to the local authorities to decide how to proceed.
So what the public is left with – once again – is another jumble of expert opinions and elected official decision-making that makes most people scratch their heads over what “science” is saying.
The only conclusion that can be drawn is that it says different things to different people for different reasons.
Medical experts exacerbate the confusion with their inhibition and quarrel over Pritzker’s decision.
Dr. Emily Landon, a Pritzker adviser, expressed her support for lifting the mandate, but described Pritzker’s decision as “aggressive and optimistic.”
Aggressive could be interpreted as unnecessarily risky, while optimistic is defined as overly hopeful. Landon exacerbated the linguistic confusion by further describing Pritzker’s action as “reasonable,” warning that “this does not mean no one needs to wear a mask anymore.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Rochello Bello, director of infection prevention at a hospital in Englewood, said it was “too early to revoke the mandate” because “everyone in the community is not vaccinated.”
If a 100 percent vaccination rate is the litmus test for loosening mandates, freedom from personal micro-management is far away.
Fortunately, Pritzker does not follow that recipe. But what about his decision to repeal the mask mandate? It depends on what experts people talk to and what “science” tells each of them.