Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker speaks at a COVID-19 update press conference on Tuesday in Chicago. | Photo: Illinois Information Service

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said that if COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decrease, he could lift “certain mask mandates” before the holidays.

Pritzker gave a COVID-19 update at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago Tuesday morning.

During the update, he urged eligible Illinoisans to get their COVID-19 vaccination booster shot.

“We know that COVID-19 vaccines are life-saving. For our seniors, you’re 29 times more likely to end up in the hospital if you’re unvaccinated. Boosters will extend that life-saving protection,” Pritzker said.

“So let’s do what we can to save lives: roll up your sleeve. Get the COVID-19 vaccine if you haven’t yet – you might just save a life. Get your booster shot – so you can be even better protected. And let’s get out of this pandemic — we can do it by continuing to work together for the common good,” he said.

Pritzker took questions from reporters following his remarks on booster shots.

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One reporter asked the governor why Illinois is being an outlier when it comes to mask mandates and what the off-ramp looks like for the state.

Pritzker responded that the Illinois Department of Public Health is continuing to watch the numbers. “You know we look at these every day. We work with them [IDPH] to determine when the right time is.”

“I want them [mitigations] to go away too. But we want to make sure we are keeping people healthy and safe following the guidelines doctors are offering for us. Obviously we want to remove the mitigations as we approach the holidays. It’s an important marker for us,” Pritzker said.

“We want to make sure these numbers keep going down because we’d like very much to head into — we have three holidays coming up — but especially Thanksgiving and Christmas where people spend extended amounts of time together, so we’d like very much to get to a place where we can remove certain mask mandates,” he added.

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Also on Tuesday, IDPH announced they are partnering with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and Illinois Department on Aging (IDoA) to increase education around boosters and provide support to skilled nursing facilities as they work to administer boosters to residents.

Currently, Illinois residents 65 or older, anyone 18+ with underlying medical conditions or who work or live in high-risk settings, such as educators and first responders, are eligible to receive a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to review booster recommendations for the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines on October 20 and 21, with final CDC authorization coming at the end of the week.

“We know that advanced age is a significant factor in COVID-19 breakthrough hospitalizations and deaths, but a booster dose can help provide continued protection,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

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“While COVID-19 vaccines continue to be effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, scientists and medical experts continue to watch for signs of waning immunity, how well the vaccines protect against variants, and how that data differs across age groups and risk factors,” Ezike said.

The CDC recommended a booster shot for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on September 23.

Eligible residents who previously received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine can receive a booster shot at a pharmacy, their primary care provider, local health department and other locations offering Pfizer vaccinations.

IDPH is spearheading the administration’s effort to get booster shots into the arms of residents at long-term care facilities, approximately 85% of which administered the Pfizer vaccine to its residents.

Only 18% of Illinois residents aged 65 and older had received a booster as of October 12.