Gov. Pritzker Announces Mask Mandate for Beginning of 2021-22 School Year; COVID-19 Delta Variant Blamed

Gov. JB Pritzker announced Wednesday, August 4, 2021 that although the state reached its lowest COVID-19 case numbers earlier this summer, the case numbers have soared by a factor of almost 10, and hospitalizations and ICU rates have doubled in the past month. He said the increases have occurred almost entirely among people who are not vaccinated.

Illinois is averaging 2,099 new COVID cases per day for the past week, which is almost a sixfold increase from four weeks ago. The statewide seven-day average case positivity rate is 4.4% in the first week of August 2021, which is up from 0.9% at the start of July, 2021.

New hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illnesses in early August 2021 have almost tripled in the past month. There were 115 hospital admissions on August 1, 2021, but only 40 hospital admissions on July 5, 2021.




MASK MANDATE

Statistics from June 2021 showed that 96% of people who were hospitalized with COVID were either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, according to JB Pritzker. He stated Wednesday, August 4, 2021 that because of the “growing threat” of the delta variant of COVID-19, a new statewide mask mandate is necessary for public and private schools in Illinois.

The August 2021 mask mandate covers students, teachers, and staff in preschool through 12th grade throughout the state, including both public and private schools.

Some school districts, including the Chicago Public Schools, already announced mask requirements for students and staff for the upcoming school year. Gov. Pritzker pointed out that too many school districts had chosen to make masks optional, even as news spread of the new threat of a more contagious delta variant.




Five days ago, Township High School District 214 and Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 announced masks would optional for students and staff. In mid-July the Arlington Heights School District 25 board had voted for an optional mask-wearing policy, but at least 800 people signed a petition that asked the board to rescind the decision. Yesterday, Stevenson High School announced that masks would be mandatory for students and staff.

“Far too few school districts have chosen to follow the Centers for Disease Control prescriptions for keeping students and staff safe. Given the CDC’s strong recommendation, I had hoped that a state mask requirement in schools wouldn’t be necessary, but it is.”

— JB Pritzker (Wednesday, August 4, 2021)

Gov. JB Pritzker predicted that without a mask mandate in schools, Illinois would likely see more outbreaks compared to the latter half of the previous school year.

“Preventing outbreaks from the start also prevents kids from having to stay home because they’re sick or in quarantine,” according to Pritzker.




Gov. Pritzker also announced that face coverings would be required for all indoor recreation and sports programs in preschool through 12th grade; however, masks won’t be required for athletes and coaches while outdoors, where the risk of spreading COVID-19 is lower.

Gov. Pritzker said his administration is prepared to provide free masks to school districts that need them, and the state is also encouraging school districts to conduct regular testing to detect potential outbreaks early.

“Every time we think we know where this virus is headed, it changes and it shifts.”

— Gov. JB Pritzker

Gov. Pritzker said he’s also issuing a statewide mask mandate for residents, staff and visitors at all long-term care facilities in the state, including those that are privately vaccinated.




Pritzker said he’s also issuing a vaccine mandate for state employees who work in congregate settings, such as prisons, veterans homes, and psychiatric hospitals, effective October 4, 2021 giving those workers time to get fully vaccinated.

“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,” he said.




Gov. Pritzker said, while the vast majority of residents in the state’s veterans’ homes have been fully vaccinated, many of the employees who work in veterans’ facilities have not been vaccinated. Employees “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,” Pritzker said.

Gov. JB Pritzker said the state has notified labor unions about the new safety measures, and asked members to come to the bargaining table to negotiate details of the vaccine mandate.

Vaccinations in Illinois have gone up 57% in the past week, from an average of 17,982 doses per day one week ago, to 28,180 doses per day as of Tuesday night, August 3, 2021.

Gov. Pritzker said Illinois has a limited amount of time to avoid another wave of cases similar to the fall surge last year, when cases rose to as high as 10,000 or more per day in November and December 2020.

“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 COVID-19 patients. It will allow us to support kids’ full return to in-person learning, it will keep businesses open, and it’s easy to get. It’s the vaccine.”

— JB Pritzker

Gov. JB Pritzker said everyone in Illinois who is eligible for the vaccine, but who hasn’t already been vaccinated, should get vaccinated to help protect those who can’t yet receive it, in particular children under age 12.

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