To help slow the spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant, Governor J. B. Pritzker issued a mandate Wednesday requiring face masks indoors for pre-kindergarten through high school students, teachers and staff as well as in long-term care facilities and day cares. The announcement comes as school districts across the state grappled with whether to require masking.
Pritzker said enough is enough.
“Given the CDC’s strong recommendation, I had hoped that a state mask requirement in schools wouldn’t be necessary, but it is,” Pritzker said.
The data shows 96% of people who were hospitalized during June in Illinois with COVID-19 are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
Pritzker said the majority of those affected were under age 60.
“Given our current trajectory, we need immediate and urgent action to slow the spread of the Delta variant,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said that because of the state’s lower rates of vaccination among children age 12-17, because children under age 12 are currently ineligible and because of vaccine resistance among other groups, the mask requirement is effective immediately.
Health authorities intend to adjust the requirements for schools as the situation changes.
Mask Mandate Enforcement
Pritzker said school districts could face legal liability for failing to follow the state’s mask mandate.
He said another way to enforce the mandate is that the Illinois State Board of Education could remove the recognition status for a school if it isn’t following the mandate.
Pritzker said the goal of establishing a universal mask mandate for schools is simple.
“My goal has always been to bring kids back into the classroom at the start of the school year and crucially to keep them there,” he said. “Without these measures, we would likely see many more outbreaks than in the latter half of the last school year.”
State Employee Vaccine Mandate
Also in response to the pandemic, Pritzker directed state employees who work in congregate facilities to get vaccinated.
“They run the risk of carrying the virus into work with them,” he said. “It’s the residents who are ending up sick, hospitalized or worse. It’s a breach of safety, it’s fundamentally wrong, and in Illinois, it’s going to stop.”
The mandate goes into effect Oct. 4. Until then, state employees are required to wear a mask.
Pritzker said he is asking private employers to follow his lead, requiring employees to get vaccinated.
Masking for High School Sports
There are no current plans to adjust the 2021-22 IHSA athletic schedule. However, indoor sports participants in Girls Volleyball and Girls Swimming and Diving must wear masks, along with coaches, officials and spectators. Outdoor sports are not required to wear masks at this time, unless they are practicing indoors. There are also no restrictions for scheduling or spectator attendance limitations for any IHSA sport.
A Message for the Vaccinated
Pritzker acknowledged the frustration people who are vaccinated may feel for doing the right thing and said he wants to remind them that they are safe.
He urged those already vaccinated to share their experiences with anyone who hasn’t yet been inoculated.
Anyone who has not been vaccinated is reminded that the vaccine is free and they may be eligible for the $1 million vaccine lottery. Additionally, vaccinations can be received at a local clinic, doctor’s office, and at home, if an individual is homebound.
Naperville News 17’s Megann Horstead reports.
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