Pritzker to announce mask rules in school classrooms, vaccine requirements for some state workers

Illinois Capitol News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — UPDATED at 7:33 p.m. — Illinois will adopt a new statewide mask mandate for all public and private schools and day care facilities “effective immediately,” Governor J.B. Pritzker announced at a Coronavirus press conference on Wednesday.

The new guidelines come as doctors warn about the highly contagious Delta variant spreading more quickly, especially through unmasked groups of children indoors.

“It is spreading very quickly among kids in congregant groups like the initial variants did not,” Doctor Doug Carlson, the Medical Director of St. John’s Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, explained. “So we know that in unmasked situations it’s spreading quickly among the kids and adolescents.”

Carlson said 12 children sick with COVID-19 related illness came to the children hospital he works at in the last two weeks alone.

“If your child cooperates and wears a mask, it is good for them and good for those others if they can’t wear a mask,” he said.

Carlson said the St. John’s hospital system is strongly considering enacting a vaccine mandate for all its employees.

Meanwhile, government employees who work in state prisons, veterans homes, psychiatric wards, or other congregant living facilities will have to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs, according to Pritzker who announced a new vaccine mandate for some state workers.

“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,” Pritzker said.

While teachers unions applauded Pritzker’s mask mandate, Pritzker was not ready to issue a vaccine mandate for teachers.

“Adults have the ability to make the decision to go get vaccinated,” he said in response to a reporter’s question about vaccine mandates for teachers. “We’re trying to tell them, ‘It’s time to do that.'”

“As the Delta variant has threatened people, I think people see that this is the best way to stay safe,” Pritzker said. “And so I believe teachers who are unvaccinated — I don’t know how many of them there are — but I believe they will follow the same guidance.”

Springfield public schools have not yet ordered teachers to get the shot, but the district is asking teachers to report their vaccination status before returning to the classroom in the fall.

“If somebody does not wish to answer the question, we’ll consider them unvaccinated,” Springfield district 186 superintendent Dr. Jennifer Gill said. “We are asking for that asking them to upload their card. But we’re not mandating that.”

Pritzker’s office said they have the legal authority to enforce the mask mandate in public and private schools, threatening to strip a school of certification if they don’t enforce the rules.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Governor Pritzker is preparing to announce new pandemic protocols during a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

According to sources briefed on the matter, the Governor’s new Coronavirus measures will not include capacity limits or restrictions on businesses, but will order local school districts to enforce mandatory mask requirements for all students and staff in schools this fall.

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.

Illinois could enact new mask mandates for K-12 schools statewide ahead of the fall return to the classroom.

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.

Republican governors in Texas, Florida, and Arkansas have signed executive orders banning mask mandates at the local level, though Arkansas’ governor later said he regretted the decision once infections started to rise.

Pritzker could also announce new rules requiring some state workers to become vaccinated. AFSCME Council 31, the public sector union that represents state workers, has not yet responded to requests for comment.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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