CHICAGO, Ill. (WMBD) — Gov. JB Pritzker announced Wednesday masks will be required for all students and staff this fall, and all Illinois employees will be required to be fully vaccinated in order to work.
Due to the vaccine not being approved for children under 12 and districts are reluctant to adopt mask mandates, all students preschool through 12th grade will be required to wear masks, he said Wednesday.
“Without these measures, we would likely see many more outbreaks than in the latter half of the last school year,” he said.
Face coverings will be required for all indoor recreational activities as well. Masks will be supplied by the Pritzker administration to any districts that need them.
Last month, the CDC opened the door for school districts to make masks optional for students who have been vaccinated. Later, after a rise in Delta variant infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, and studies showing that vaccinated people can sometimes spread the virus, the federal health agency updated its position to recommend that all students and staff wear their masks indoors.
The mask mandate comes after several school districts have already opted to make masks optional. Some school board meetings have become heated with parents clashing over mask rules. A statewide mask mandate could help some school board members avoid those heated interactions.
In June, 96% of those hospitalized in Illinois due to COVID-19 were not vaccinated or partially vaccinated.
“Every time we think we know where this virus is headed, it changes and it shifts,” he said.
The largest group being affected are those unvaccinated, and everyone must work together to slow the spread of the Delta variant, he said. There is a limited amount of time to stave off the highest peaks of the surge going into the fall.
“For those of you who are still sitting on the fence about getting vaccinated, I urge you to talk to your own doctor,” he said, adding the vaccine is safe, effective, and prevents serious illness and death.
State employees will also be required to be vaccinated, Pritzker announced. The directive will take effect Oct. 4.
“It’s our obligation to exercise due care in protecting those residents,” he said.
All long-term care facilities, including privately owned and operated facilities, will be required to wear masks as well.
“I will continue to listen to the IDPH and other experts to evaluate any and all necessary action to protect children, prevent death, and support our health care systems. I’m asking private health care companies to do the same,” he said.
Pritzker received support from the largest teachers groups in the state.
“We all want to get back to normal. Let’s pull together and take care of one another. Vax up and mask up. We owe it to our students and we owe it to each other,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association, which at 135,000 members is the largest union in Illinois. “We’re so thankful to have leadership in this state that won’t let the virus fester and grow. But, it us up to all of us to bring COVID-19 to its knees.”
Meanwhile, Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery issued this statement:
“We continue to be thankful for Governor Pritzker’s steady leadership throughout the pandemic. As school resumes soon in most Illinois districts, we welcome his updated mask mandate. With the large number of unvaccinated individuals and the rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant in Illinois, requiring masks in all schools is a prudent course of action.
“Science tells us that a layered approach will go a long way towards helping keep schools open and students, staff, and communities safe. In addition to mask wearing, we strongly urge all school districts and institutions of higher education to employ additional safety measures, including physical distancing, regular handwashing, adequate building ventilation, and regular COVID testing of students and educators.
“The sharp increase of COVID-19 cases in our state is a stark reminder that this pandemic is far from over. It is the responsibility of every one of us to do whatever is necessary to keep one another safe and bring this pandemic to an end. Our union takes that responsibility seriously and will continue to fight to help make that happen.”
The IFT represents 103,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, faculty and staff.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Don Tracy just wants Pritzker to take his TV ads off the air.
“He cannot run political TV ads that take a victory lap over his pandemic response while at the same time reinstituting COVID mandates and mitigations,” Tracy said.