DECATUR — Despite a change in guidance from the federal government, Decatur officials say there are currently no plans to bring back a stricter form of the city’s mask mandate.
City Manager Scot Wrighton said that “no updates to the mask ordinance are on the city council agenda, and I've not been asked to put any on the city council agenda.”
His comments came Thursday, just a few days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its masking guidance, recommending that everyone, including fully vaccinated people, wear a mask indoors in areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission of COVID-19.
According to CDC data, there is "substantial" transmission of COVID-19 cases in Macon County. The vast majority of Illinois counties are now included in one of those two categories, which are based on case rates over the previous week.
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced the state was “fully adopting” the CDC’s masking recommendations. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office announced Thursday that masks would once again be required in all state facilities regardless of vaccination status.
Wrighton, however, said there was “a lot of confusion coming out of the CDC,” noting the gulf between the agency’s latest data and the latest data from IDPH.
Though the CDC data indicates about 94 cases per 100,000 residents in Macon County, IDPH data on Thursday was showing only 18 cases per 100,000 residents, with the county also meeting each state target metric. There is a lag time of about a week in state data, however. As of Friday, the state number increased to 74 cases per 100,000 residents, placing the county in warning status for this metric.
“The city isn't going to go beyond the mask requirements that are already in place for medical facilities, for public transit facilities and other locations where, for whatever reason, the owner or the proprietor may require masks because of this confusion and because we don't think Macon County is covered yet,” Wrighton said.
The city of Decatur first adopted its mask mandate in November, requiring face coverings to be worn in all public places, including businesses, government facilities, healthcare settings, public transportation and rideshare services. Businesses violating the ordinance faced up to a $500 fine and individuals up to a $250 fine for each offense.
The council voted to scale back the ordinance in June after the CDC and IDPH said that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks in public.
The pared-back ordinance leaves mask requirements in place in healthcare settings and on public transportation. Masks remain mandated in public settings for unvaccinated people, though that has been based on the honor system.
While there is no county-wide mask mandate, “it is recommended that residents of Macon County (who are 2 years or older) wear face coverings in indoor settings” in accordance with CDC and IDPH guidance, said Krystle Tempel of the Macon County Health Department.
The Decatur Public Library is among the local entities requiring masks to be worn by those visiting and working at the downtown Decatur facility.
City Librarian Rick Meyer said he didn't make the decision lightly, and as soon as possible, will go back to no masks. The library board had no objection to reinstating the requirement, he said.
“Nobody wants to be in this position,” Meyer said. “But here we are. People are disappointed, but it's tied to the community transmission level. We're not just randomly or arbitrarily doing this. We're following the best advice we can get.”
The Macon County Health Department on Friday announced 92 new positive cases of COVID-19 in the past week, bringing its total to 11,232 since the pandemic began. To date, 38.88% of Macon County residents are fully vaccinated, lagging behind the state average of 50.7%.
Among those positive cases, health officials said 251 are variant strains. The seven identified strains included the UK, Brazil/Gamma, Delta, California and South African.
The number of new coronavirus cases in Illinois increased by nearly 50 percent during the week ending Friday compared with the previous week, state health officials said, the latest sign of a fourth wave of infections in the state that experts attribute to sluggish vaccination rates and the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.
Illinois health officials on Friday reported 2,348 new confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, the second time in three days the tally has topped 2,000. Over the past seven days, the state has averaged 1,669 new daily cases, up roughly 46% from the previous week’s average of 1,140 cases per day.
While the statewide average remains well below the peak of 3,390 daily cases recorded in mid-April during the spring surge — the smallest of the previous three waves of COVID-19 and the only one during which some portion of the population was vaccinated — new information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing the delta variant is as contagious as chicken pox and can be transmitted by fully vaccinated people is raising alarms.
Shelly Williams, from Charleston, had lunch Friday in her vehicle with family during a trip to Decatur.
“It’s stressful for everybody, especially having kids,” she said. “But it’s confusing and scary for everybody.”
As the CDC and government regulations change, the rules can be complicated for families to follow. “The messaging was confusing with each county, each state,” Williams said. “Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. It’s all over the place.”
Williams said she is being cautious and wears her mask when she enters public buildings. “If there is a Delta variant, we’d rather error on the side of safety than not,” she said. “We’ll just follow the guidelines.”
Respect of others’ decisions are important to Williams as well. “I can’t tell others what to do,” she said. “I wouldn’t want them to be disrespectful to me.”
Sherrie Dhermy of Dalton City doesn't want to wear a mask again, but she will if necessary.
“I don’t like it or want to go back to it but I will wear it if told we have to,” she said.
Bob Fey of Decatur had the same reaction.
“I will do this if it means reversing the trend again,” he said. “I care about others as well.”
Kari Calhoun, owner of Petals Gift Shop in the Hickory Point Mall, shut down her store during the spring and summer of 2020. But the store was able to survive filling curbside orders while following the safety precautions, including wearing masks. “So that we could stay open,” the store owner said.
Calhoun doesn’t want to return to that phase. “But if we do, we’ll do the same thing again,” she said.
Staff writers Donnette Beckett and Valerie Wells contributed to this report.