Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday announced that all students and teachers in schools will be required to wear masks while indoors, as state officials take steps to try to slow the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19.
Pritzker says that the new requirement will take effect immediately, and will also apply to all students and coaches participating in indoor sports and other activities.
"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," he said. "People are dying who don't have to die."
Pritzker says that the state has a "limited amount of time" to slow the spread of the delta variant.
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State employees who work in congregant care facilities, veterans' homes and correctional facilities will also be required to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the governor.
The mandate comes after the Illinois Department of Public Health last week said it would follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new recommendations for masking indoors at K-12 schools, recommending it be done universally among teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
At the same time, IDPH also said it was "fully adopting" the CDC's updated masking guidance that recommends fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with "substantial" and "high" transmission.
The agency uses a two measures to group U.S. counties into four levels of community transmission: the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and the percent of COVID-19 tests that are positive over the past week.
If a county has reported 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period or has a positivity rate of 8% to 10%, it falls into the "substantial transmission" tier, while those reporting 100 cases or more per 100,000 or have a positivity rate of at least 10% are labeled as "high transmission." Those are the two groups for which the CDC recommends mask-wearing.
As of Monday, 96 of Illinois’ 102 counties - including all counties in the Chicago area - were experiencing either “substantial” or “high” levels of community transmission, triggering the recommendation to mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
"While data continues to show the effectiveness of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the U.S., including against the Delta variant, we are still seeing the virus rapidly spread among the unvaccinated," IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement on July 27, noting that COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to increase, especially among those who are unvaccinated against the virus.
"The risk is greater for everyone if we do not stop the ongoing spread of the virus and the Delta variant," Ezike said. "We know masking can help prevent transmission of COVID-19 and its variants. Until more people are vaccinated, we join CDC in recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial and high transmissions, and in K-12 schools."
Chicago Public Schools - the state's largest district - announced last month that all students and teachers will be required to wear face coverings and social distance while indoors this upcoming academic year.
Students and staff will have to wear a mask regardless of COVID vaccination status while indoors, except when eating and drinking, the district said in a letter to CPS families.
Face coverings will be able to be removed during recess and outdoor sports, the letter noted.
"Continuing to require masks will hep make sure those in our school communities who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which encompasses the majority of our students, remain as safe as possible," CPS said in the letter.