CHICAGO, Ill. (WTVO) — Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced a statewide school mask mandate on Wednesday.
Blaming school districts who were reluctant to adopt the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Pritzker said he was issuing the mandate for all students, staff and athletic programs K-12.
Pritzker said his decision comes because of a rise in the number of cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 among young people.
Pritzker said Illinois will also require vaccinations for state employees of congregate facilities, veterans homes, and long-term care facilities, saying workers at those facilities are below 25% vaccinated, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
The directive takes effect on October 4th. “If I could do it sooner, I would,” Pritzker said.
Thirdly, the governor ordered a universal mask mandate in all long-term care facilities, including privately-owned nursing homes.
“Given our current trajectory in hospitalizations and ICU usage, we have a limited amount of time right now to stave off the highest peaks of this surge going into the fall,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “To combat the Delta variant, Illinois is taking three key steps to protect our state’s 1.8 million unvaccinated children under 12 and their families, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and those highly vulnerable people who rely upon state employees for their daily care. I also encourage every Illinoisan who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible, as millions of their neighbors already have. This vaccine is safe, effective, and essentially eliminates the risk of hospitalization and death even from the Delta variant. In short, it’s the best tool we have.”
Last week, the CDC advised mask wearing to reduce the spread of the Delta variant, which is said to be a more contagious strain which spreads easily. However, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the outbreak is “a pandemic of the unvaccinated” because nearly all hospital admissions and deaths are among those who hadn’t been immunized.
“Vaccination is the best way we can prevent further spread, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19 and the Delta variant,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “Data show that the vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death, and are effective against the Delta variant. We have the tools to turn the tide of another wave, but we need people to use them.”
Rockford Public School Superintendent Dr. Ehren Jarrett said in a statement, “The Governor’s announcement today takes some of the uncertainty out of our planning for the upcoming school year. My priority and the priority of our School Board is always the health and safety of our students and staff. We will follow the state mandate and continue to listen to health experts to ensure our return to school is a safe as possible for our staff, students and families.”
Pritzker’s announcement comes as businesses are taking it upon themselves to require mask wearing indoors, even for vaccinated individuals.
The Illinois Restaurant Association hopes individual restaurants will be allowed to make their own decisions. Many were shut down permanently under the strain of last summer’s government ordered lockdowns.
COVID-19 deaths and newly confirmed infections across the U.S. are still dramatically lower than they were over the winter.
In Illinois on Tuesday, 8 people died of COVID-19 related illness, and 2,682 new cases were reported by the IDPH. Another 1,107 patients were in the hospital. Of those, 243 were in the ICU and 103 were on ventilators.
State Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford) responded to the mask mandate Wednesday evening, saying, “The fact is, COVID patients represent only 4% of the total number of people hospitalized in Illinois. COVID patients comprise 9% of occupied intensive care beds in the state. Meanwhile, according to the CDC, one person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from heart disease and just under 600,000 die each year from various types of cancer. The Governor does not declare these to be public health emergencies and usurp power from the people’s elected representatives in order to rule the state by executive order to reduce heart disease and cancer. We need to look at life holistically and not single out COVID-19 as the single greatest threat to our health. Vaccination should remain an individual’s personal choice and children should not be forced to wear masks in school.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.