Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced on Wednesday that, effective immediately, public schools and long-term care facilities in the state would require masks, even for those who have been fully vaccinated.
The emergence of the fast-spreading Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 led to the decision, along with the fact that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced there is evidence fully vaccinated people might be able to spread the disease, even if they are protected from the most serious effects of it themselves.
The CDC posted new guidelines for schools on July 9 that urged everyone over age 2 to wear masks.
“Far too few school districts have opted to follow CDC guidelines,” Pritzker said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “Given the CDC’s strong recommendation, I had hoped a state mandate for masks in schools wouldn’t be necessary, but it is.”
The requirement will apply to students, teachers and staff at pre-kindergarten through 12th grade schools and day cares. Masks will be required for athletes participating in indoor sports, but outdoor sports not have to comply, he said, though frequent COVID-19 testing will be encouraged.
Pritzker pledged that the state would provide masks to any public school district that needs them.
Reporters at the news conference asked about enforcement of the new mandate. Pritzker said schools might be open to liability if they do not comply. He noted the Illinois State Board of Education also has the power to remove recognition status for a school if it isn’t following the mandates.
“I don’t expect we’ll have to go there,” he said.
The governor also announced his intent to require all state employees working in congregate facilities to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 4.
“Our most vulnerable residents have no choice but to live among these workers,” Pritzker said. “By and large, residents have done what they can do to be protected. They got vaccinated. Many employees have not been vaccinated. It’s a breach of safety. It’s fundamentally wrong and in Illinois, it’s going to stop.”
Pritzker said that at a number of facilities, staff vaccination rates are below 25%, well below the rate in the state, where 59% of adults have been fully vaccinated.
He said the state would work with unions representing employees at the departments of Human Services, Veterans’ Affairs, Corrections and Juvenile Justice working in congregate facilities on implementation of the plan.
The state is also requiring universal masking in private long-term care facilities and strongly encourages owners of private facilities to join the state in adopting vaccination requirements.
Since COVID-19 metrics reached their lowest points earlier this summer, cases have soared by a factor of nearly 10, hospitalizations and ICU rates have more than doubled in a month and the number of COVID patients requiring a ventilator has multiplied nearly 2.5 times over since July 16.
In June, 96 percent of people hospitalized in Illinois with COVID-19 were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, with the majority of those hospitalizations occurring in residents under 60 years old.
All Illinois residents over the age of 12 are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost and proof of immigration status is not required to receive the vaccine. To find a vaccination center, visit vaccines.gov.
“This vaccine is safe, effective, and essentially eliminates the risk of hospitalization and death even from the Delta variant,” Pritzker said. “In short, it’s the best tool we have.”