Pritzker orders return of indoor mask mandate, plus mandatory shots for educators

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CHICAGO, Ill. (WTVO) — Gov. JB Pritzker mandated indoor masks for all Illinois residents on Thursday, plus requiring all educators P-12 and higher, and healthcare workers, to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or get regular tests.

The mandate returns Illinois to a level of mitigations not seen since before vaccines were available, and would apply to everyone in the state over the age of 2-years-old.

The mask mandate goes into effect on Monday, August 30th.

Beginning September 5th, those who are unable to get vaccinated will be required to get COVID-19 tests.

“If you’re unvaccinated, you’re getting those in your care sick,” Pritzker said.

Teachers and staff at pre-k-12 schools as well as personnel and students at higher education institutions are required to receive the vaccine. Workers and students in applicable settings must receive the first dose of a two-dose vaccination series or a single-dose vaccination by September 5, 2021. Second doses of the vaccine must be received by 30 days after the first dose.

The public health requirements come as regions with low vaccination rates continue to see a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations. In IDPH region 5, Southern Illinois, with the lowest vaccination rate in the state at 44 percent, only 3% of ICU beds are available as the region experiences the highest case rate in the state. Since August 1st, local health departments across the state have reported 27 COVID-19 outbreaks at schools and currently hundreds of schools are being monitored for potential COVID-19 exposures. 

“The quick spread of this disease in Illinois and across the country is holding us all back from the post-pandemic life we so desperately want to embrace, and it’s harming the most vulnerable among us,” said Pritzker. “We are running out of time as our hospitals run out of beds. Vaccination remains our strongest tool to protect ourselves and our loved ones, to restore post-pandemic life to our communities, and most crucially, to maintain our healthcare system’s ability to care for anyone who walks through their doors in need of help – and Illinois is taking action to keep our communities safe.”

At a press conference Thursday morning, Pritzker said those in serious condition in ICUs are “almost exclusively” unvaccinated.

“Because of the delta variant, hospitals are once again fighting a battle we thought we had left behind us,” Pritzker said.

In addition to the return of mask wearing, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association said in a joint statement, “The surge of COVID-19 cases in our state reminds us that this vaccine mandate is a public health imperative. To implement it properly, widespread education and access to vaccines will be essential. For members who cannot, or will not, get vaccinated, we are glad to see the governor has implemented twice weekly COVID testing.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had already required the use of masks for residents of Chicago as hospitalizations by primarily unvaccinated individuals has threatened to overwhelm the city’s healthcare systems. She also issued an edict requiring all city employees to be vaccinated or face unemployment.

“Vaccination is the key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic and returning to normal life,” the Governor’s office said Thursday.

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