Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced new COVID-19 mitigations Wednesday as cases surge throughout Illinois, including a mask mandate for students and teachers in schools, as well as vaccine requirements for state-run congregant care facilities.
Read his full remarks on the new state orders below:
Good afternoon everyone. I’m here with Illinois Department of Public
Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike to address the growing threat of the Delta
variant of the COVID-19 virus.
Since we reached our lowest case numbers earlier this summer, we’ve seen
COVID-19 cases soar by a factor of nearly 10. Hospitalizations and ICU
rates have doubled in a month. And since the middle of July, the number of
COVID patients requiring a ventilator has multiplied nearly 2.5 times over.
This upward movement has occurred almost entirely among those who are
unvaccinated. In the month of June, 96 percent of people hospitalized in
Illinois with COVID-19 were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated – the
majority of which are UNDER 60 years old.
Every time we think we know where this virus is headed, it changes and
shifts. For example, unlike before, people 29 years old and younger
accounted for 12 percent of hospitalizations. All across the nation, we are
seeing young people with no other underlying conditions now on
ventilators. I want to say specifically to young adults: please do not think
the worst case scenario can’t happen to you. It can happen. It is happening. Get vaccinated. To parents of minors who are eligible to get the shot, please
get your children vaccinated as soon as possible.
This isn’t just happening to young people. To everyone listening, I wish we
could avoid having COVID interfere with our summer. But the virus and its
effects are increasing once again, and the largest group affected who are
being hit especially hard are the unvaccinated.
As your governor, it’s my duty to say that we all must take immediate and
urgent action to slow the spread of this Delta variant. People are dying who
don’t have to die. It’s heartbreaking, and it impacts us all.
Given our current trajectory, we have a limited amount of time right now to
stave off the highest peaks of this surge going into the fall. We need to act
now or risk what we’re starting to see in places like Florida, which has once
again set a new record for COVID hospitalizations.
Unlike last year at this time, we now have an extremely effective tool to save
lives and keep our hospital systems from being overwhelmed with COVID19 patients. It will allow is to support kids’ FULL return to in-person
learning. It will keep businesses open. And it’s easy to get.
It’s the vaccine.
For those of you who are still sitting on the fence about getting vaccinated, I
urge you to talk to your own doctor about your concerns. Or listen to Dr.
Ezike and the world class medical professionals I’ve invited here over the past year and a half, all of whom will tell you that the vaccine is safe,
effective and prevents serious illness or death even from the Delta variant.
Every Illinoisan who is eligible should get vaccinated as soon as possible. In
the meantime, we cannot delay taking action. Today I am announcing our
initial actions to combat the fast-moving Delta variant.
We are 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.
First, far too few school districts have chosen to follow the federal Centers
for Disease Control’s prescription for keeping students and staff safe,
though I want to commend the districts of Edwardsville, Champaign,
Peoria, Springfield, Elgin, Chicago and others for already doing the right
thing by their students.
Given the CDC’s strong recommendation, I had hoped that a state mask
requirement in schools wouldn’t be necessary. But it is. The Delta variant is
highly transmissible, more so than any of the previous forms of the virus.
Because of the lower rates of vaccination among teens aged 12 to 17,
because the vaccine has not yet been approved for children under 12, and
because of the reluctance of some districts to adopt the CDC’s guidance,
effective immediately, all P-12 schools and day cares in Illinois must follow
the CDC guidance of universal masking inside, regardless of vaccine status.
My goal has always been to safely bring all kids into the classroom at the
start of the school year and, crucially, keep them there. Without these
measure, we would likely see many more outbreaks than in the latter half of
the last school year. Preventing outbreaks from the start also prevents kids
from having to stay home because they’re sick, or in quarantine.
This requirement extends to P-12 sports: face coverings will be required for
all indoor recreation, whereas outdoors, where transmission risks and rates
are lower, athletes and coaches will not be required to mask. We will
continue to encourage school districts to make sure their athletes are tested
regularly to catch any potential outbreaks early.
And to ensure that schools have what they need to adhere to the new mask
requirement, my administration is ready to supply masks to any school
districts that need them. That’s on top of the FREE COVID-19 testing
supplies we’ve providing to all our public schools statewide.
Throughout this pandemic, we’ve shifted public health protocols as
circumstances change, and we’ll continue to do so. We’ll continue to watch
for things like a significant reduction in transmission, the availability and
utilization of vaccines for school-aged children under 12, and additional
guidance from the CDC – and, as we see developments in those areas, we
will adjust our requirements for schools accordingly. Again, our goal has
always been to make sure every child can go to school this fall and that the
school environment is safe for everyone.
Today I’m also announcing that Illinois will require vaccinations for ALL
state employees who work in congregate facilities, such as our veteran’s
homes, corrections facilities, and Department of Human Services
developmental centers and psychiatric hospitals.
Our most vulnerable residents – such as veterans who can’t live on their
own and adults living with developmental disabilities – have no choice but
to live amongst these workers. By and large, residents of these state-run
facilities have done what they can to protect themselves by getting
vaccinated. For example, residents at our state veterans’ homes have
vaccination rates of 96%, 98%, even 100%.
And yet many of the long-term care facilities’ employees have themselves
not yet been vaccinated. The run the risk of carrying the virus into work
with them – and then it’s the residents who are ending up seriously sick,
hospitalized, or worse. It’s a breach of safety, it’s fundamentally wrong, and
in Illinois, it’s going to stop. We already require masks for everyone
entering state facilities, but if we’re going to fully protect our vulnerable
populations, the most effective infection control measure is vaccination. It’s
our obligation to exercise due care in protecting of the health of the
residents, so we will.
We’ve notified the unions about this necessary safety measure, requesting
that they come to the negotiating table to work out the details. Our state
agencies will continue to make the vaccine readily available to employees,
including hosting vaccination drives at worksites and offering paid time off
for receiving the vaccine.
This directive takes effect October 4th, two months from today, leaving
ample time for employees to get fully vaccinated. If I could do it sooner I
would. Until then, all employees will remain be masked up.
Finally, I’m announcing a universal mask mandate in all long-term care
facilities across Illinois, including those that are privately owned and
operated. This means everyone, vaccinated or not, must wear a mask when
in a facility with long term care patients and residents. This is already
standard practice in much of the industry, but while the Delta variant rages
on, I want to leave no doubt on the need for compliance.
I will continue to listen to IDPH and other experts to evaluate any and all
necessary action to protect children, prevent death, and support our
healthcare systems. I’m asking private employers to do the same. Already,
we’ve seen companies with Illinois operations, like Tyson and Google,
announce vaccine requirements for employees. I applaud those employers
who have taken steps to protect their employees, their customers and the
public from the virus and I hope to see others join them.
Most crucially, I’m putting this call out to ALL long-term care facilities and
nursing homes in the state of Illinois. Your workers are on the frontlines of
protecting thousands of our elderly loved ones – but across the state, staff
vaccination rates are dramatically lower than those of your residents. At a
troubling number of facilities, staff vaccination rates are below 25 percent.
I want to end with a message for our vaccinated residents.
I know this is hard. You did the right thing for yourself, for your family, for
your community, and now, because of the new Delta variant and the high
number of unvaccinated people in the U.S. it feels like we’re going
backwards in this journey.
Please remember that the vast majority of vaccinated people are safe. No
vaccine is 100 percent effective, and hearing about breakthrough cases on
the news can feel scary, even when breakthroughs are rare and mild. But
the likelihood of a vaccinated person testing positive for COVID-19 remains
extremely low – and, most importantly, these vaccines are doing what
they’re designed to do: essentially eliminate the risk of hospitalization and
Again to all those who are already vaccinated, I’m going to ask one more
thing of you: Talk to someone in your life who could get the vaccine, but
hasn’t yet. Please: share your story. Share why you got vaccinated. Let them
know the vaccine is free. Let them know they can go to their doctor, to a
pharmacy, to the clinic – and if they’re homebound, someone can come and
vaccinate them. Let them know they’ll still be eligible for the $1 million
Illinois vaccine lottery – and most important, that they’ll receive the lifesaving benefits of the vaccine.
We’ll get through this as Illinoisans always have come through crises:
working together. Thank you.