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With COVID Numbers Coming Down, When Might Mitigation Measures End? Top Doc Says Not For A While, But Some Go To Court Over Masks In Schools

CHICAGO (CBS) -- COVID numbers are coming down – on Wednesday, we learned that both the city and state have peaked in the last few weeks.

Now, the questions are getting louder - when will we see some loosening of rules because of it? CBS 2's Chris Tye examined Thursday how doctors and judges are weighing in on the question.

One downstate judge has schools on her plate, and may decide as soon as next week whether or not millions of Illinois school kids will need to continue to mask up in school. Meanwhile, the city's top doctor – Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady – says removing masks feels like a spring thing.

"This is tricky messaging," Arwady said.

The message from the city - made clear Wednesday - is that the Omicron variant wave has peaked. But that message has given way to tougher questions on when we'll see "peeks" of old life.

"It's getting better, but it is not better yet - if that makes sense," Arwady said Wednesday.

To make some sense of it, the newest numbers show more than 200 hospitalizations every day in Chicago, and 2,819 new COVID cases daily. Those figures are still very high, but they are also down 50 percent from last week.

Changes to masking rules will not be measured in weeks.

"This conversation that I'm having about eventually being able to take the vaccination requirement off; eventually being able to take masks off – is that in our future? I absolutely expect that it is in our future. Is that in our future imminently? Absolutely not," Arwady said. "I'm hopeful that sort of by the spring, we'll be in that place."

But some want to speed up the unmasking - namely in Illinois schools.

A total of 144 districts - including many big names around Chicago such as Naperville, Lake Forest, and Hinsdale - have been named in a suit trying to strip the state and districts from being able to require masks.

Some thought a judge could issue a ruling on that issue Thursday, which might impact masking as quickly as Friday. But the judge saying her ruling will take time.

The Omicron curve is moving in the right direction, and it's moving fast. But experts warn that moving around policy too quickly could upend progress.

"We won't come down as quickly and as effectively. The hospitals stay full," Arwady said. "It takes longer to sort of get to that point where we all want to get."

The school masking lawsuit is being heard in downstate Sangamon County. There are two cases being heard - one is a group of parents pushing for un-masking, and another is a group of teachers doing the same.

A small army of lawyers is pushing back on both on behalf of dozens of districts.

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