The deadline for health care workers, teachers and higher education students to receive the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine has been extended two weeks, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday.
Workers in mandated groups will need to receive the first dose of a two-dose vaccination series or a single-dose vaccination by Sept. 19, as officials note hospitals and schools are working to implement additional testing programs.
Second doses of the vaccine must be received by 30 days after the first dose, according to the state requirement.
The extension came at the request of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association, the Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Association of School Administrators and Illinois Principals Association, officials said.
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Pritzker said the following groups will be required to receive the vaccine in a move he said was aimed at lowering the number of breakthrough cases, hospital admissions and spread of the delta variant:
- 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
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.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady reminded Thursday of the requirement for mandated groups, and noted that COVID vaccines are "free and widely available" statewide.
"There certainly will start to be more consequences and more follow-up on where folks have not done this, but please, to avoid that setting, if you do work in healthcare or an education or if you're in higher education, please take the opportunity even this week and save yourself some follow-up trouble," Arwady said.
Arwady said all Chicagoans over the age of 12 can register online or call (312) 746-4835 and make a vaccination appointment.
"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."
Pritzker has also 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 indoor mask mandate, similar to mandates already handed down in Cook County and Chicago, requires facial coverings in indoor settings, regardless of COVID vaccination status.
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."