CHICAGO, Ill. (WTVO) — Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker will lift the state’s indoor mask mandate on February 28th, but will still require masks in schools and long-term care facilities, he announced at a press conference on Wednesday.

Illinois is one of nine states that still required masks inside public places.

Pritzker said the worst of the omicron variant of the deadly virus has passed and with hospitalization numbers plummeting, masks no longer need to be worn to enter restaurants, grocery stores, or other indoor spaces.

“We are now seeing the fastest rate of decline in our COVID-19 hospitalization metrics since the pandemic began. If these trends continue — and we expect them to —then on Monday, February 28th, we will lift the indoor mask requirement for the State of Illinois,” said Pritzker. “I want to be clear: Many local jurisdictions, businesses and organizations have their own mask requirements and other mitigations that must be respected. Throughout this pandemic, we’ve deployed the tools available to us as needed. Our approach has saved lives and kept our economy open and growing.”

“While masks will no longer be required in most indoor locations beginning February 28, they are still recommended,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

Masks will still be required at healthcare locations, long-term care facilities, prisons, and shelters in Illinois. The governor said transportation requirements will follow guidance from the federal government, and daycare settings will follow guidelines from the Department of Children and Family Services.

Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford) responded, saying, “It is reported that once again Governor Pritzker is leading with no scientific logic other than from the ‘medical professionals’ in the Chicago Teachers Union.  As most other states have already ended (some for more than a year) or recently announced an end to their mandates. There is no science to support the arbitrary date of March 1 for lifting some mask mandates while keeping others. It is ridiculous to keep school mask mandates in place when children are essentially at zero risk. All mandates should be ended immediately.”

Although the change in policy doesn’t apply to schools, the Democratic governor has appealed a circuit court ruling last week that found he had overstepped by requiring face coverings for in-person learning.

Reporters had pressed Pritzker in recent days about whether he would ease the Illinois mask mandate as other states have done lately, including New York.

During the worst of the surge in cases involving the omicron variant, hospitalizations soared to a peak of 7,400; the number of inpatients has dropped to about 2,500.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.