Gov. JB Pritzker Issues New Mask Mandate For Illinois Schools, Some State Employees As COVID-19 Cases Continue To Climb

CHICAGO (CBS) — Citing the “growing threat” of the delta variant of COVID-19, Gov. JB Pritzker on Wednesday announced a new statewide mask mandate for public and private schools in Illinois.

The mandate covers students, teachers, and staff in preschool through 12th grade throughout the state, including both public and private schools.

Some school districts, including the Chicago Public Schools, already were planning to require masks for students and staff for the upcoming school year, but Pritzker said too many others have chosen to make masks optional, despite the growing threat of the more contagious delta variant.

“Far too few school districts have chosen to follow the Centers for Disease Control prescriptions for keeping students and staff safe,” Pritzker said Wednesday afternoon. “Given the CDC’s strong recommendation, I had hoped that a state mask requirement in schools wouldn’t be necessary, but it is.”

The governor said, without a mask requirement in schools, Illinois would likely see more outbreaks than in the latter half of the last school year.

“Preventing outbreaks from the start also prevents kids from having to stay home because they’re sick or in quarantine,” he said.

In addition to masks inside schools, the governor said face coverings would be required for all indoor recreation and sports programs in preschool through 12th grade, though masks won’t be required for players and coaches while outdoors, where the risk of spreading COVID-19 is lower.

The governor said his administration is prepared to provide free masks to school districts that need them, and the state is also encouraging school districts to conduct regular testing to detect potential outbreaks early.

Pritzker said he’s also issuing a vaccine mandate for state employees who work in congregate settings, such as prisons, veterans homes, and psychiatric hospitals, effective Oct. 4, giving those workers time to get fully vaccinated.

“Our most vulnerable residents, such as veterans who can’t live on their own, and adults living with developmental disabilities have no choice but to live amongst these workers,” he said.

The governor said, while the vast majority of residents in the state’s veterans’ homes have been fully vaccinated, many of the employees who work in those facilities have not.

“They run the risk of carrying the virus into work with them, and then it’s the residents who are ending up seriously sick, hospitalized, or worse. It’s a breach of safety, it’s fundamentally wrong, and in Illinois it’s going to stop,” he said.

The governor said the state has notified labor unions about the new safety measures, and asked them to come to the bargaining table to negotiate details of the vaccine mandate.

Pritzker said he’s also issuing a statewide mask mandate for all long-term care facilities in the state, including those that are privately vaccinated. The mandate will cover residents, staff, and visitors.

“This is already standard practice in much of the industry, but while the delta variant rages on, I want to leave no doubt on the need for compliance,” he said.

The governor’s latest moves to slow the spread of COVID-19 come as Illinois has seen a significant increase in new cases in recent weeks.

Pritzker said, since the state reached its lowest case numbers earlier this summer, COVID-19 cases have soared by a factor of nearly 10, and hospitalizations and ICU rates have doubled in the past month. He said the increases have occurred almost entirely among people who are not vaccinated.

The governor said, in June, 96% of people who were hospitalized with COVID were either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.

“Every time we think we know where this virus is headed, it changes and it shifts,” he said.

Illinois is averaging 2,099 new COVID cases per day over the past week, a nearly sixfold increase over four weeks ago, and the statewide seven-day average case positivity rate is at 4.4%, up from 0.9% at the start of July.

New hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illnesses have nearly tripled in the past month, up from 40 admissions on July 5 to 115 on Aug 1.

However, vaccinations also have begun climbing in the past week, after the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people in parts of the country that have “substantial or high transmission” of the virus should resume wearing masks indoors.

While the vaccination rate in Illinois was largely flat for most of July, it has gone up sharply in the past week, from an average of 17,982 doses per day one week ago, to 28,180 doses per day as of Tuesday night, a 57% increase.

The governor said Illinois has a limited amount of time to avoid another wave of cases similar to the fall surge last year, which saw cases rise to as high as more than 10,000 per day in November and December.

“Unlike last year at this time, we now have an extremely effective tool to save lives and keep our hospital systems from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. It will allow us to support kids’ full return to in-person learning, it will keep businesses open, and it’s easy to get. It’s the vaccine,” Pritzker said.

The governor said everyone in Illinois who is eligible for the vaccine, but who hasn’t already been vaccinated, should get their shot to help protect those who can’t yet receive it, in particular children under 12.

Feeds,News,Region: Chicago,City: Chicago

via CBS Chicago

August 4, 2021 at 02:57PM

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