Indoor mask mandate; vaccines required for educators and health care workers

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announces a statewide indoor mask mandate on Thursday.

A statewide indoor mask mandate will take effect starting Monday in Illinois due to a COVID resurgence in recent weeks. In addition, educators and health care professionals will be required to receive a COVID vaccine, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Thursday.

The vaccine requirement, which goes into effect Sept. 5, will apply to “all P-12 teachers and staff, all higher education personnel, all higher education students, and health care workers in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care facilities and physician’s offices,” Pritzker said.

Individuals working in these settings who are unable or unwilling to receive their first dose of vaccine will be required to get tested for COVID at least once a week, Pritzker added, and the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education may require more frequent testing in certain situations like in an outbreak.

IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Illinois is seeing 220 hospital admissions per day – a number on par with the last COVID surge in May.

Pritzker said 98 percent of cases, 96 percent of hospitalizations and 95 percent of deaths since January have been among unvaccinated people.

While vaccines are the best defense, Ezike said, “wearing a mask continues to be one of the simplest, cheapest ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Intensive care bed availability in southern Illinois is at 3 percent, Pritzker said.

“That’s because the regions with the lowest vaccination rates are the regions where there are fewer hospitals, and lower hospital capacity,” Pritzker said. “And those hospitals are sometimes the least well-equipped to handle cases as they become more acute.”

He added, “We are continuing to rely on experts at the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and (Illinois Department of Public Health), but you don’t need to be an epidemiologist to understand what’s going on here. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

The current vaccination rates – nearly 53 percent of the state’s population is vaccinated – “are not enough to blunt the ferocity of the Delta variant,” Pritzker said, which has led to hospitals “again fighting the battle that we had hoped would be behind us by now.”

Paul Schimpf of Waterloo, a Republican candidate for Governor of Illinois, was critical of Pritzker’s mask mandate.

“JB Pritzker has lost all moral authority to lead on pandemic response by failing to follow the rules he set for others,” Schimpf said. “If Democrats believe our current situation is so dire to require a mask mandate, they should take up the issue during their legislative session that is scheduled for Aug. 31. Absent legislative action, these executive edicts are yet another divisive act by a failed governor who believes he wields unlimited power.” 

There have been 36 new coronavirus cases reported since Sunday in Monroe County, with about 100 cases currently active and three hospitalizations. 

No new COVID-related deaths have been reported locally since last week.

A total of 17,305 eligible Monroe County residents (50.40 percent) are fully vaccinated. That compares to 39.70 percent in Randolph County and 45.40 percent in St. Clair County.

(Information courtesy of Capitol News Illinois and the Illinois Department of Public Health.)

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