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Springfield mask mandate not yet justified, mayor says after latest expert advice on COVID
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Springfield mask mandate not yet justified, mayor says after latest expert advice on COVID

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The Sangamon County Department of Public Health strongly encourages vaccinated and unvaccinated county residents to follow state and federal recommendations to wear a mask in public places and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

But the statement Monday from county health officials didn't convince Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder that he should ask the city council to reinstitute the city's mask mandate.

Langfelder said local hospitalizations for COVID-19 would have to rise significantly — something that hasn't happened, at least not yet — before he would seek reinstatement of the mandate. The mandate came with fines and other potential penalties for individuals and businesses.

In the meantime, the city's focus should be on shots to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and encouragement for patrons to comply if local merchants require masks, the mayor said.

"The reality is the public is going to have to be vaccinated," Langfelder said.

If more residents don't get vaccinated, the mayor said he expects hospitalizations to increase locally in the fall and early winter, when people spend more time indoors. Such a trend would prompt him to seek council approval to reinstate the mandate that the council first authorized in mid-November and then repealed June 15, he said.

Langfelder said last week that he wants to avoid levels of COVID-19 that would lead to a renewal of reduced operating hours for businesses, closures and other economic restrictions.

He noted that the new Sangamon County health department recommendations didn't suggest a mask mandate.

A statement from the department said: "Throughout the pandemic, Sangamon County has always heeded the advice of trusted public health experts. There is now increasing and justifiable concern amongst those public health experts regarding the spread of new COVID-19 variants."

The statement said the new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Illinois Department of Public Health includes "the use of masks by both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals when in indoor settings. Their recommendation regarding mask use is advisory only and not mandatory."

Wearing a mask in public places is "the best and safest practice ... even if you are vaccinated, to help reduce the spread and to help prevent serious illness," the statement said. "Masks aren't perfect shields, but the weight of evidence indicates that they do reduce the spread of COVID."

The statement concludes by stressing the importance of COVID-19 vaccines.

"Based on all of the available evidence, the vaccines do work," the statement said. "We ask all county residents to do the right thing for themselves, their families and their community, and get vaccinated."

About half of all Sangamon County residents have been fully vaccinated, but vaccinations have slowed significantly in recent weeks while cases and test positivity rates have risen.

The Sangamon department reported 285 new COVID-19 cases in the seven-day period ending Friday. Those cases were double the number reported in the previous seven-day period and almost triple compared with the seven-day period ending July 16.

Nineteen county residents with COVID-19 remain hospitalized, according to the department. And there were 223 new positive cases for the three-day period ending Monday.

There have been a total of 19,982 COVID-19 cases among county residents and 237 deaths.

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