Gov J.B. Pritzker on Thursday reimplemented a statewide, indoor mask mandate and also announced a vaccine mandate for all K-12 and higher education employees in an attempt to curtail a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
“To put it bluntly, because of the Delta variant hospitals are again fighting the battle that we had hoped would be behind us by now,” Pritzker said. “To be clear, what I am announcing today is a floor — at a minimum, those who work in schools and health care settings should be vaccinated or tested, keeping our kids and our most vulnerable safe for state workers and congregate facilities we have put in place more stringent requirements to protect our most vulnerable.”
Starting Monday, Illinois will join several other states that have reinstated mandatory indoor mask requirements, regardless of vaccination status.
Starting Sept. 5, vaccines will be required for all teachers in preschool through 12th grade and staff, all higher education personnel and students at the state’s colleges and universities, as well as health care workers “in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care facilities and physician offices,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker laid out some grim facts Thursday that led to the decision.
The governor said this summer alone, from January through July, 98% of the state’s cases are among those who are unvaccinated; 96% of Illinois’ hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people; and 95% of deaths are among unvaccinated.
As of Thursday, the state’s seven-day rolling average for ICU bed availability in Southern Illinois is 3%; during the spring surge that figure “never dropped below 15%,” Pritzker said.
“These hospitalizations are preventable, and vaccination is our tool,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the head of the state’s Department of Public Health.
Asked about what would be needed to alleviate the new mitigations, Pritzker said until the pressure on the state’s hospitals and intensive care units eases “we’re going to need to continue to put the pressure on people to wear masks and indoor locations and all the other mitigations that I’ve talked about today and that we’ve had in place.”
The response from across the aisle was swift.
Don Tracy, the chair of the Illinois Republican Party, said in a statement that while the party strongly encourages people to get vaccinated, “many people remain deeply skeptical” and “we do not think government-imposed vaccine mandates is the best way to overcome that skepticism.”
“The science is clear — the vaccine is safe and effective,” Tracy said. “We hope everyone, in consultation with their doctor, will reach that conclusion and get vaccinated. It’s the best proven way to keep people safe and put the pandemic behind us.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.