Illinois orders indoor mask mandate; vaccine requirements for education and health care workers

Illinois

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Masks are back and vaccines will be required for all K-12 teachers and staff, all higher education staff and students, as well as health care workers, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday.

Beginning Monday, Aug. 30, everyone ages 2 and up will be required to wear masks in indoor settings regardless of vaccination status.

Starting on Sept. 5, individuals working in a vaccine-required setting who are unable or unwilling will to get the shot will be required to get tested at least once a week. More frequent testing may be required, such as in the case of an outbreak, he said.

Pritzker said the delta variant is spreading twice as fast and that these requirements are aimed at limiting its spread.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Gov. Pritzker said.

The governor explained that hospital ICUs are filling up. He said the regions in the state with the lowest vaccination rates like southern and east-central Illinois are where there are fewer hospitals and lower hospital capacity.

In the Metro East, hospital ICU capacity is above 20%, unlike 3% for southern Illinois. The Metro East region is one of six of the state’s 11 regions with a vaccination rate below 60%.

Pritzker also pointed the finger at unvaccinated health care workers for getting people in their care sick.

“Unvaccinated workers in the health care system and nursing homes have driven a majority of the breakthrough hospitalizations we’ve seen in the state,” he said.

The mandate is for gyms, restaurants, bars, and grocery stores, as well as other indoor venues.

Management at Bennie’s Pizza Pub on Main Street in Belleville is taking it all in, slice by slice.

“It’s tough going back and forth… We’re just putting signs up and offering masks to people that come in without them” said owner Bennie Parr. “We just want to do whatever is right to get past this and keep everyone healthy.”

Parr said they’ll follow the rules but it might have a negative effect on business. “Over the past couple of weeks, we have noticed a slight dip in sales,” he said. “I believe people may be a little scared and cautious and things are gearing up again.”

Dr. Brian Mentzer, superintendent of the Belleville Township High School, said this will be a major task to get all employees vaccinated within weeks.

“Our schools have learned to adapt to a variety of situations in the district,” he said. “We have over 840 employees, and while there are a lot of things we still don’t know, this will be an extremely big task for us.” 
 
The school district says anyone who does not get a COVID vaccine will have to submit to weekly testing.

As of Wednesday, all 102 counties in Illinois are in the red zone for COVID cases. That means every Illinois county is experiencing what has been termed high transmission levels of COVID-19. The situation has been made even more serious by the still surging Delta variant.

He also said a majority of the people in the hospitals are unvaccinated. He explained that from January to June, 98% o COVID cases are among the unvaccinated. He also said 96% of hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients.

Gov. Pritzker said the best way to manage the situation and prevent illness is by slowing the transmission with masks and vaccinations.

Pritzker said if you are an elected leader from a highly infected community and are resisting masks instead of helping to get your people vaccinated, your definition of public service looks a whole lot different than mine.

Chicago and suburban Cook County are already under mask mandates similar to the one Pritzker is expected to announce Thursday. Pritzker previously announced a mask mandate for all Kindergarten through 12 schools and daycares to combat the spread of COVID among children.

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