With the delta variant driving COVID-19 case numbers higher and higher in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced multiple “initial” actions to combat the variant, including a new mask mandate for students and teachers in schools and vaccine requirements for employees of state-run congregant care facilities, including veterans’ homes and correctional facilities.
The new requirements were laid out during a press conference Wednesday at the Thompson Center, with the governor saying that the state needs to take “immediate and urgent action” to slow the spread of the delta variant.
“As your governor, it’s my duty to say that we must all take immediate and urgent action to slow the spread of the delta variant. People are dying who don’t have to die,” Pritzker said. “We need to act now.”
The first and most far-reaching of the actions the Pritzker administration will take will be to mandate the use of masks by students and teachers, regardless of their vaccination status. Pritzker said that he was “disappointed” that schools hadn’t acted to implement CDC recommendations on mask-wearing in schools, and said that it ultimately became necessary for him to mandate their use.
“Without these measures, we would likely see many more outbreaks,” Pritzker said. “Preventing outbreaks from the start prevents kids from staying home because they’re sick or in quarantine.”
Pritzker says the mask requirement will also apply to athletes and coaches participating in indoor sports, and that the state will provide free masks and COVID testing kits to schools that request them.
The governor also announced that employees at state-run congregant care facilities, including correctional facilities, veterans’ homes, and psychiatric hospitals, will be required to receive COVID vaccinations, effective Oct. 4.
“By and large, residents of these state-run facilities have done what they can do to protect themselves by getting vaccinated,” he said. “And yet, many of the long-term care facilities’ employees have not been vaccinated.”
State agencies will be required to make the vaccine readily available to employees, and negotiations remain ongoing with unions about implementation of the new requirements.
The third and final pillar of the actions Pritzker announced Wednesday is a requirement that all visitors, staff and patients at long-term care facilities wear masks. That includes such facilities that are privately operated.
“Given our current trajectory, we have a limited amount of time to stave off the highest peaks of this surge heading into the fall,” he said. “We now have an extremely effective tool to save lives, and to keep our hospital systems from being overwhelmed by COVID cases.”