Health care workers, teachers and higher education students will be required to receive the coronavirus vaccine in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday.
In a move he said was aimed at lowering the number of breakthrough cases, hospital admissions and spread of the delta variant, the governor said the following groups will be required to receive the vaccine:
- Health care workers, including workers at public and private nursing homes
- Teachers and staff at pre-k-12 schools
- Personnel and students at higher education institutions
Workers in those groups will need to receive the first dose of a two-dose vaccination series or a single-dose vaccination by Sept. 5. Second doses of the vaccine must be received by 30 days after the first dose, according to the state requirement.
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Those who do not receive the vaccine or opt out for medical reasons or a religious exemption must follow a testing schedule laid out by the state. Testing will be required once a week in schools and healthcare facilities, but that requirement could increase in some cases, such as outbreaks.
"Healthcare, school workers, and higher education personnel and students attending in-person classes who do not provide proof of vaccination will be prevented from entering healthcare and educational facilities unless they follow the required testing protocol," the state's latest guidance says.
The move was supported by the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association.
“The surge of COVID-19 cases in our state reminds us that this vaccine mandate is a public health imperative," Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery and Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin said in a joint statement. "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 weekly COVID testing."
The announcement comes at the same time Pritzker reinstated a mask mandate for the state, requiring masks indoors for residents as he says Illinois is "running out of time as our hospitals run out of beds."
The new indoor mask mandate, similar to mandates already handed down in Cook County and Chicago, will begin Monday and require facial coverings in indoor settings, regardless of COVID vaccination status.
"Illinois will join several other states that have reinstituted statewide indoor mask requirements, regardless of vaccination status, effective on Monday," Pritzker said. "Masks work. Period."
Pritzker said the delta variant "is increasingly causing concern for our hospital capacity in communities across Illinois."
"Let's be clear, the vaccination is the most effective tool we have for keeping people out of the hospital and preventing deaths," he said.
Calling it "a pandemic of the unvaccinated" Pritzker said "you don't need to be an epidemiologist to understand what's going on here."
As of Wednesday, all 102 of Illinois' counties are experiencing "high transmission" levels of COVID-19, meaning that the counties are either seeing 100 or more new cases of COVID per 100,000 residents each week, or are seeing positivity rates of greater than 10% on all COVID tests.
Under those parameters, residents in those counties are recommended to wear masks by the CDC, but Pritzker's order will go one step further, requiring individuals to wear masks in indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.
The decision is also driven by rapid increases in the number of patients requiring ICU beds while battling COVID. In Region 5, located in southern Illinois and comprised of 20 counties, just six of the region's 86 ICU beds are currently available, up from just one available on Tuesday.
Officials say 22 beds of 171 are currently available in northwest Illinois' Region 1, while 21 are avaialble in Region 3, which includes Springfield.
On Tuesday, Pritzker had warned of "significantly greater mitigations" if COVID metrics didn't begin to decline across the state.
"We're consistently looking at the menu of options that we may need to impose in order to bring down the numbers," Pritzker said during a press conference Tuesday. "I will remind you that if we are not able to bring these numbers down, if hospitals continue to fill, if the hospital beds and ICUs get full like they are in Kentucky -that's just next door to Illinois - if that happens, we're going to have to impose significantly greater mitigations."