Last week’s executive order by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker only recommends mask wearing for people at high risk for contracting COVID.

The recommendations — in line with federal CDC guidelines — periodically have been updated and now extend until Nov. 12, said Janet Hill, chief operating officer for the Rock Island County Health Department.

The Illinois mask mandate ended last February, and since then, the state has been in line with CDC recommendations, she said Monday.

“For many months now, the CDC has said for people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated, if they’re in communities of high transmission, that they should wear a mask inside,” Hill said. Counties at medium community risk, people at higher risk of disease should consider wearing a mask and if they’re at a low level, people can choose to wear a mask. It’s not necessarily recommended.”

Right now, Rock Island County (and all surrounding QC counties) are at low community transmission levels, as is most of the country.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“It does not mean it’s gonna stay that way, and that’s what the governor’s executive order is getting to — that makes it more dynamic,” Hill said, noting if the CDC recommends masking for high-risk areas, Illinois should too. “He’s recommending you follow CDC guidance.”

If you’re in a low transmission area, people can choose to wear a mask or not, she said. The area community transmission level has been low for several weeks.

Recommendations apply to people who are both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated, Hill said.

“We know that the virus is still circulating. We’re starting to see upticks in the eastern part of the country,” she said. “We’ve seen upticks in Europe for the last few weeks.”

In Rock Island County, 61 percent of all residents are fully vaccinated (including 88% of those age 65 and up), and in Scott County, 63% are fully vaccinated (including 95% of those 65+). Nationally, 33 percent of those fully vaccinated have received a booster.

Virus becomes more common in cold

Historically, COVID cases increase during colder months as people spend more time inside, Hill said.

“We are expecting to have higher transmission rates as the winter goes on, but we’re hopeful we have a high enough immunity level with recent vaccination and boosting,” she said. “We’re at a different level than we were a year ago or two years ago regarding immunity. Everyone should understand to keep that high level of community immunity, we need to keep vaccinations as high as possible and people need to stay up to date with their vaccines.”

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The county health department (2112 25th Ave., Rock Island) gives free vaccines Tuesday (Moderna) and Friday (Pfizer), Hill said, noting you can mix and match brands of vaccines.

The latest bivalent vaccine booster attacks the infectious Omicron variants, and includes the original vaccine formulation, she said.

Most infections people have now have been due to Omicron. “We know that when one variant starts to come into the community, if there’s not a high level of immunity, it can take off,” Hill said. “So your best protection is to get boosted or get vaccinated if you haven’t been vaccinated so far.”

You can get a booster if it’s been at least two months since your last dose.

The CDC has approved boosters for children as young as 5, Hill said. Rock Island County offers Moderna boosters for anyone 6 and older, and Pfizer has authorized for 5 and older, but the Rock Island clinic doesn’t have those Pfizer boosters, she said.

“The bivalent booster is the only booster being offered now,” Hill noted. “It offers you the best protection available now.”

After mid-November, the Illinois recommendations will likely continue.

“All this does is get the Illinois guidance in line with the CDC guidance,” Hill said. “The CDC says if you’re in a community with high transmission, you should consider wearing a mask.”

The COVID vaccine boosters targeting Omiciron and other variants began arriving in Multnomah County, Sept. 2, 2022 (Multnomah County)

More than 890,000 Illinoisans have received a dose of the new, bivalent vaccines since they were approved for use in early September, including almost 190,000 doses in the last week. Daily vaccination numbers are at the highest level seen since early February, during the major surge in illnesses caused by the Omicron variant, according to Illinois Department of Public Health.

IDPH reported that over the last week, an average of more than 27,000 doses of the new bivalent vaccines were administered across the state each day. This is more than double the daily average for all vaccinations for most of the summer.

Among the total eligible Illinois population of those 12 and older (until the recent approval for those 5 and older), 10.5 percent have received the new booster. The rate is higher among those 65 and older, at 19.8 percent of the eligible Illinois population.

Updates for healthcare facilities

Gov. Pritzker today updated masking and testing requirements for healthcare facilities and long-term care centers. These new guidelines, which go into effect today, are in line with updated CDC recommendations. Federal requirements remain in effect for those facilities.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker reacts during a news conference in the Greektown neighborhood, of Chicago, Sept. 14, 2022. (Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, File)

“Thanks to the tremendous efforts of our health care workers and residents, Illinois has done better at keeping our people safe with vaccines, boosters, and masking, which puts us in a position to continue to scale back health care requirements in line with the CDC,” Pritzker said in a Monday release. “COVID-19 is on its way to becoming endemic, like the flu, but it still poses a real threat to our immunocompromised and disabled communities.

“Here in Illinois, we look out for one another—it’s what defines us as Illinoisans. Let us continue to live up to those ideals by masking up and testing when we have symptoms and getting COVID-19 booster shots—as I recently did—so that we can protect our neighbors.”

“As we continue to learn how to live with COVID-19, it is important for the State of Illinois to adapt our policies to better align with federal guidelines,” said IDPH director Dr. Sameer Vohra. “The Department continues to monitor COVID-19 closely. And we are working with our health care and long-term care partners to promote staying up-to-date with vaccinations, make treatments available, and protect our health care workforce. 

“The updated Executive Order demonstrates our state’s ability to effectively combat COVID-19 with the many advanced tools at our disposal that can both prevent and treat this disease. I continue to encourage of all our residents, but especially those most at-risk of severe outcomes, to take advantage of the vaccinations and treatments available to protect themselves and their families.”

The updated order removes the weekly testing requirements for unvaccinated healthcare and LTC workers. The order will also trigger an update of IDPH policy on face coverings.

Face masks are no longer required in all healthcare facilities but are still recommended in healthcare facilities in areas of high community transmission, consistent with CDC guidance. Finally, the amended order removes the state-issued vaccine mandate for LTC and healthcare employees, consistent with the CDC’s guidance.