Gov. Pritzker announces face masks required in schools, long-term care centers

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) —Governor JB Pritzker is issuing updated COVID-19 restrictions at a press conference Wednesday.

He’s instructing local school districts and daycares to enforce mandatory mask mandates for all students and staff.

This comes after the CDC previously dropped face mask requirements for vaccinated students. Following a rise in Delta variant cases, the federal health agency later changed its stance and recommended all students and staff should wear masks indoors.

He says case numbers have increased by a factor of ten since the summer low, and hospitalizations have doubled. Additionally, 96% of hospitalized COVID patients are not vaccinated.

Pritzker says we’re seeing young people across the nation with no underlying conditions who are now on ventilators.

The governor says he had hoped a mask requirement in schools would not be necessary, but it is.

He also says face coverings will be required for all indoor sports, but not for outdoor sports. The governor adds they’re encouraging school districts to test athletes regularly to catch outbreaks early.

Pritzker announced that vaccinations would be required for all state employees at congregate facilities, noting veterans have no choice but to live among these workers.

The governor says many workers in long-term care centers are not vaccinated.

“They run the risk of carrying the virus into work with them, and then it’s the residents who end up seriously sick, hospitalized or worse,” he says. “It’s a breach of safety, it’s fundamentally wrong, and in Illinois, it’s going to stop.”

Other workers who fall under the vaccine new mandate include correctional facilities, the Department of Human Services Developmental Centers, and psychiatric hospitals.

The third new rule announced by Pritzker required masks to be worn at all times in long-term care centers.

The governor is also addressing people in Illinois who have already gotten vaccinated.

“I know this is hard. You did the right thing for yourself, for your family, for your community, and now because of the new Delta variant and the high number of unvaccinated people in the United States, it feels like we’re going backward in this journey,” Pritzker says.

He’s also asking people to remember that the vast majority of vaccinated people are safe, and hearing about breakthrough cases in the news can feel scary.

“But the likelihood of a vaccinated person testing positive for COVID-19 remains extremely low. And most importantly, these vaccines are doing what they’re designed to do: essentially to eliminate the risk of hospitalization and death.”

Lastly, he asked people to talk to those who haven’t been vaccinated about getting their shot.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike says 5.5% percent of cases in January were children under the age of ten. That number has increased to 15% as of July, she says.

Similarly, she says cases among people aged 10-19 have increased from 15% in January to 23% in July.

The state’s health director says they’re seeing the same trend in hospitalizations. She says the percentage of hospitalizations among people under 20-years-old has tripled from 2.5% to 7.8%.

“And yes, while most children who get COVID have fewer symptoms than adults they absolutely can still get COVID-19 and they can absolutely spread it to others,” Ezike says.

Numerous cases of COVID-19 have been linked to youth camps, the director says, which includes cases in children eligible for vaccination and who had spread the virus to others.

She says vaccination status was not checked at these camps and masks were not worn while indoors.

“Masks are a critical tool to interrupt transmission of the virus,” Ezike says. “There is an abundance of epidemiological data to support community masking to reduce the spread of the virus.

“But there’s more that we can do. There is something even better than masks. Vaccinations are even stronger tools. It’s our best tool. And unfortunately, there are people under the age of 12 who don’t have access to this life-saving tool.”

This is a developing story.

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