As COVID-19 infection rates across the state continue to increase and with a number of school districts not yet adopting CDC guidance on masking, Governor JB Pritzker and IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike today announced masks will be required for students, teachers, and staff at pre-kindergarten-12th grade schools and day cares across the state. The new requirement formalizes CDC guidance released in July on universal masking for both unvaccinated and vaccinated people in schools to ensure a safe return to classrooms.
The governor also announced his intent to require all state employees working in congregate facilities to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by October 4th. The state is informing the unions representing these employees of its intention to move forward with this requirement, which covers employees at the Departments of Human Services, Veterans’ Affairs, Corrections and Juvenile Justice working in congregate facilities. The state is also requiring universal masking in private long-term care facilities and strongly encourages owners of private facilities to join the state in adopting vaccination requirements.
The new measures are part of the state’s ongoing effort to combat a new surge as the Delta variant rapidly spreads among the unvaccinated. Since COVID-19 metrics reached their lowest points earlier this summer, cases have soared by a factor of nearly 10, hospitalizations and ICU rates have more than doubled in a month, and the number of COVID patients requiring a ventilator has multiplied nearly 2.5 times over since July 16th. In June, 96 percent of people hospitalized in Illinois with COVID-19 were unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, with the majority of those hospitalizations occurring in residents under 60 years old.
“Given our current trajectory in hospitalizations and ICU usage, we have a limited amount of time right now to stave off the highest peaks of this surge going into the fall,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “To combat the Delta variant, Illinois is 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. I also encourage every Illinoisan who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible, as millions of their neighbors already have. This vaccine is safe, effective, and essentially eliminates the risk of hospitalization and death even from the Delta variant. In short, it’s the best tool we have.”
“Vaccination is the best way we can prevent further spread, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19 and the Delta variant,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “Data show that the vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death, and are effective against the Delta variant. We have the tools to turn the tide of another wave, but we need people to use them.”
In preparation for the start of the upcoming school year and in response to the highly contagious Delta variant, all students, teachers, and staff at pre-kindergarten – 12th grade schools and day cares will be required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, effective immediately. This guidance is in line with recommendations from the CDC.
The state is also requiring universal masking in long-term care facilities regardless of vaccination status.
Illinois is home to 1.8 million children under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. With the Delta variant infecting the younger population at a greater rate and with people under 29 years old now accounting for 12 percent of COVID hospitalizations in June, requiring the use of masks is the most effective tool to allow students to return to their classrooms safely while protecting them from the virus. Mask wearing will also help prevent unvaccinated students from transmitting the virus to more vulnerable members of their broader communities.
The mask requirement is inclusive of youth sports and activities, with masks now required for all indoor extracurriculars and sports. In line with CDC guidance, masks are not required for activities outdoors where transmission risks and rates are lower.
The administration is providing free testing to all pre-K-12 schools in Illinois outside of Chicago, which received a separate federal funding allocation for testing.
IDPH also provided additional guidance for students and staff who are exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Close contacts of a positive case can remain in school if they receive testing on days one, three, five, and seven post exposure and if they wore masks at the time of exposure.
“The CDC strengthened its guidance last week for universal indoor masking in schools, and Illinois will continue to follow the science, data, and public health experts to keep students in school and keep communities safe,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “We know that consistent and correct mask use is the simplest, most effective way to keep students safely in school, where they can learn and grow to their fullest potential.”
A number of school districts across the state have already adopted CDC guidance and implemented a mask requirement to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students, teachers, and staff and the communities they live in. Those districts include the state’s two largest school districts, Chicago and Elgin U-46, as well as Edwardsville Community School District 7, Peoria Public School District 150, Champaign Unit 4 School District, Springfield School District 186, and Naperville School District 203.
To help schools across the state protect the health and safety of students and staff, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) has distributed 2.5 million free face masks to public schools since the beginning of the pandemic. The free masks grant every child the ability to access the learning opportunities provided by their school in person, regardless of their ability to purchase a face covering or make one at home. The administration will continue to supply masks to school districts as they request assistance.
From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pritzker administration has implemented policies and guidelines in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) aimed at protecting the state’s most vulnerable residents. With the Delta variant causing a rapid increase in infection rates across the nation and Illinois, the state is taking additional steps to slow the spread of the virus in congregate facilities, where residents are most vulnerable.
With vaccination rates among residents in state congregate facilities largely being significantly higher than rates among staff, approximately 80 percent of the new COVID-19 cases in state-operated congregate care facilities have been due to infection among employees. However, the individuals in these facilities, who frequently lack the ability to live on their own, are bearing the brunt of the consequences of unvaccinated workers as their hospitalization rate due to the virus increases.
The state is notifying the unions representing all employees who work in 24-7 state-operated congregate living facilities of the intent to require that these employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine by October 4th. This includes employees who work in state veterans’ homes, developmental centers, correctional facilities, and juvenile justice facilities. Increased vaccination rates will help prevent and slow community spread, reduce the likelihood of infecting vulnerable populations, and allow for potentially less-severe illnesses for those who contract COVID-19 post vaccination. State agency leaders will ensure ongoing vaccination opportunities for employees at state-run facilities, as they have since vaccine was first made available to employees.
Governor Pritzker urged privately-owned and operated long-term care facilities to implement a similar vaccination requirement for their employees to protect the vulnerable residents they serve.
“As the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread and evolve, our state guidance needs to do so as well,” said House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch. “We know vaccines save lives and build herd immunity in our communities, so it is imperative that we encourage everyone to get theirs. But with the lower rate of vaccinations among teens and younger children not yet eligible to receive theirs, these are the difficult decisions our leaders must make to prevent illness and save lives.”
“When we follow medical science, we make progress against this pandemic. I applaud the governor for continuing to follow the science to protect the people of Illinois,” said Illinois Senate President Don Harmon.
“Keeping our veterans safe and healthy is a top priority, especially those in our state-operated long-term care facilities who were hit hardest early on in this pandemic,” said State Senator Tom Cullerton (D- Villa Park), Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee. “I commend the governor for taking the necessary actions needed to protect the most vulnerable in the state, as well as the workers who care for the veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country.”
“I want to thank Governor Pritzker for taking steps to secure the safety and welfare of our residents. These decisions are not easy, however not making decisions is not an option when the health and lives of Illinoisans are at stake,” said State Rep. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates). “As he did in the past, Governor Pritzker is following the science, which is the only way to combat this pandemic. This is not a political issue, it’s a very serious health issue. The sooner we act, the more successful we’ll be in controlling the Corona Delta variant.”
“Anything we can do to protect our most precious children who are still unable to receive vaccinations is essential. We have to do everything in our power to keep the COVID numbers down,” said State Rep. Sue Scherer (D-Decatur).
All Illinois residents over the age of 12 are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost and proof of immigration status is not required to receive the vaccine. To find a vaccination center near you, go to vaccines.gov.
Response from State Senator Jason Plummer
State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville) issued the following statement in response to his actions:
“I find it troubling that the Governor has clearly not learned from his costly past mistakes and has decided to double down on his refusal to allow lawmakers and other local officials the opportunity to give a voice to the people they represent. This mandate is just a continuation of the same go-it-alone approach that has driven our state’s response to this pandemic, making Illinois an outlier and leaving millions of Illinoisans voiceless. Our hyper-political governor needs to put our children before his politics. Enough is enough.
“This isn’t leadership, this is an unabashed power trip. The arrogance and irony that this mandate is coming just days after the Governor was publicly plugging his intended attendance to a four-day long mass music festival attended by tens-of-thousands of people in Chicago does little to restore the public’s confidence that our state’s policy response to this tragic pandemic is rooted in hard data and common sense. There should not be two sets of rules, one for the Governor and like-minded autocrats and another for the people they are supposed to serve.
“Governor Pritzker’s continued go-in-alone approach has all too often put the very most vulnerable in Illinois at risk and has left our state facing one of the worst economic recoveries in our nation. It’s time he recognizes his continued unilateral mandates and executive orders don’t represent the will of the people that he supposedly represents.”
Response From State Representative Charlie Meier
State Representative Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) issued the following statement after Governor Pritzker announced a mandatory mask mandate for K-12 public schools in the state:
“As I have stated before, the decisions made by the governor should be made by local officials, not in his capacity as governor. Repeatedly we asked to debate these issues in the legislature, but it has fallen on deaf ears by the Democrat leadership. We should be able to decide this locally, I trust my local elected school boards with this decision more than I trust the decision made by our governor.”
Response From Collinsville Unit 10 Superintendent Brad Skertich
Collinsville Community Unit School District #10 Superintendent Dr. Mark B. Skertich released the following statement today in response to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Executive Order requiring masks be worn indoors by all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
“Following Governor Pritzker’s announcement today, effective immediately and until further notice, all PreK-12 students and staff in Collinsville Community Unit School District #10 will be required to wear face coverings/masks while indoors.
The district is reviewing how the Governor’s mask mandate, along with CDC and IDPH guidance, will impact the district’s full Return to Learn Plan. Updates to the Return to Learn Plan will be released next week. We appreciate your patience as we plan for students’ return on August 18th.”
Response From Natasha Box, Collinsville District #10’s Unmask Our Kids
“Our group worked alongside Dr. Skertich to fight for local control. We were granted that through the CDC and with the state’s blessing go local control. The Governor’s announcement today did not reflect local control and within a few hours Dr. Skertich followed the Governor’s mandate. We are very disappointed. We had hoped that as hard as we fought alongside Dr. Skertich, he would have held on to local control harder and not caved within three hours. Our groups are not done fighting for parental choice. We are looking into other avenues to regain our local choice. This is extremely frustrating as the CDC still states local control and that masks are recommended and not required for students in K-12.”
Response From Megan Cunningham, Spokesperson for Soeak For Students, a parent choice group in Triad, Highland, Edwardsville, Bethalto, and Granite City School Districts
“We are still a parent choice group, not an anti-mask or anti-vaccination group. We want parents to be able to choose what is best for their families. We will continue to be in partnership with the community leaders”.
Responses from Students
Delainey, 7th grader, Collinsville Middle School: “I wouldn’t say it’s great, but I understand it is to help others”.
Olivia, 9th grader, Collinsville High School: “It’s a little annoying. I feel like I got it [the vaccine] for nothing. But since cases are going up it’s ok”.
Christian, 12th grader with special needs, Highland High School: “I don’t like it. Not going to do it [wear mask]. Ok if I don’t get to go to school my senior year”.