Chicago, New Mexico and airports turn to mask requirements
By Daniel E. Slotnik and Azi Paybarah
As the highly contagious delta variant fuels a sharp rise in cases around the United States, more indoor mask mandates are returning or being extended: for Chicagoans, New Mexicans and, now until next year, any American using public transportation or visiting an airport.
Chicago and New Mexico’s mandates, which apply regardless of vaccination status, begin Friday.
The mandates, announced Tuesday, come after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last month that everyone wear masks indoors in areas with high case numbers, regardless of their vaccination status.
Officials said the mask requirements were needed to help stop the rapid spread of the virus. Over the past week, the United States has been averaging roughly 139,800 new coronavirus cases each day, an increase of 52% from two weeks ago. The number of new deaths reported is up 87%, to an average of 696 deaths per day.
Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, along with Hawaii, Louisiana, Oregon and Puerto Rico have also turned toward indoor mask mandates.
Though cases have risen eightfold in Cook County, where Chicago is, since early July, when fewer than 100 cases were being reported most days, the outlook remains far better than in much of the rest of the country. On a per-capita basis, Cook County is averaging fewer than half as many new cases as the country as a whole. An average of 17 cases per 100,000 residents are emerging each day in Cook County, compared to 43 cases per 100,000 people nationally and 138 cases per 100,000 people in Florida.
Chicago’s new mask mandate covers all indoor public settings, including bars and restaurants, clubs and common areas of residential buildings, according to the city’s department of health.
The mandate was put in place because the city’s daily average of new reported cases rose to more than 400 a day, and it will revert to a recommendation when average new cases drop below 400 for an extended period, Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s health commissioner, said.
“I don’t expect that this will be an indefinite, forever mask requirement,” Arwady said.
In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Tuesday that masks would be required in all public indoor settings from Friday through at least Sept. 15.
New Mexico required people in public spaces to wear a mask starting in May 2020, but dropped it about a year later for people who were fully vaccinated, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.
Recently, cases in the states started to rise. “This surge is a terrifying indicator of moving absolutely in the wrong direction,” Lujan Grisham said at a news conference.
Lujan Grisham also announced that teachers and all workers at public, private and charter schools in the state would have to be vaccinated or face regular testing. This mandate goes into effect Monday.
With hospitals filling with COVID-19 patients, Lujan Grisham said, “We’re in a terrible place for health care services and for protecting our health care workers.”
Travelers looking to avoid areas with stringent mask requirements may have to think again. The Transportation Security Administration announced Tuesday it was extending its mask mandate for airports, airplanes and public transportation through Jan. 18, 2022. Travelers under the age of 2 and those with certain disabilities are exempt, said Sari Koshetz, a spokesperson for the TSA.
Requiring masks has become a hot-button political issue, and Republican governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas have forbidden local governments and school districts in their states from imposing mask mandates.
That has not stopped districts in those states from trying, and legal battles about the requirements are still playing out.