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Pritzker announces mask mandate for Illinois schools; vaccine mandate for some state workers

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced Wednesday a mask mandate for all Illinois schools – preschool through Grade 12 – and daycares, effective immediately, and some state employees will face a COVID-19 vaccine mandate by the first week of October.

The mask mandate brings the state in line with U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control guidance that says teachers and students older than the age of 2 need to wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

“I had hoped that a state mask requirement in schools wouldn’t be necessary, but it is,” Pritzker said.

The state will require vaccines for state employees who work in congregate facilities, including veterans homes, corrections facilities and Department of Human Services’ developmental centers and psychiatric centers. This directive takes effect on October 4.

“The most effective infection control measure is vaccination,” Pritzker said.

All long-term care facilities, including those that are privately operated, are also under a universal masking order, Pritzker said.

The governor also stated that all high school athletes will have to be masked for indoor practice and competition, while coaches and athletes in outdoor sports will not have to mask because the rate outdoor transmission of COVID-19 is low.

IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said that last month, nearly 15% of COVID-19 cases were in young children, up from less than 5% in January, and in July, 7.8% of hospitalizations were in people younger than 20 years old.

In a news release, the state’s largest teachers union outside of Chicago applauded the mask mandate.

“We all want to get back to normal. Let’s pull together and take care of one another. Vax up and mask up. We owe it to our students and we owe it to each other,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association. “We’re so thankful to have leadership in this state that won’t let the virus fester and grow. But, it us up to all of us to bring COVID-19 to its knees.”On Monday, the Illinois State Board of Education updated its mask guidance to say that everyone, teachers and students, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a mask inside schools. A week prior to that, the Illinois Department of Public Health warned schools to check with their insurers if they don’t follow CDC mask guidance.

For local districts, the fact that a decision has been made is a welcome one, regardless of what that decision is.

“We are disappointed on one level in that a lot of people were looking forward to making that decision for themselves,” Morris Community High School District 101 Superintendent Dr. Craig Ortiz said. “On the other hand, it makes it easier for the school boards and administrations to move forward. We have been battling for the last couple of months to have something definitive come from the state.

“It will also make it easier on school nurses. If there is a policy of masks mandated and three feet apart, that could mean fewer quarantines.”

Ortiz said the decision comes just in time for his district, as they begin school on Aug. 18.

“We’re only two weeks away from school starting,” he said. “Now we know. It was frustrating there for a while because we didn’t have any guidance from the state on what we should do.

“An interesting question is what will the IHSA do for athletics? We did lose the capacity limits that we had last year, so, as of now, fans will be allowed to come to games. And, if the mandate is to wear masks indoors, we will be able to have our PE classes outside and let the kids take their masks off for an hour.”

Coal City Community Unit School District #1 was scheduled to have a board meeting Wednesday night. Superintendent Dr. Kent Bugg said that COVID mitigations were to be one of the topics discussed.

“We feel that it’s the job of public health officials to let us know what we should do,” he said. “We are in the business of educating kids. We don’t know about public health. If the school caught fire, we would call the fire department, but we wouldn’t stand outside the school and ask the fire department how they are going to fight the fire. That’s their job.

“We have always followed any of the Governor’s mandates or any CDC guidance. A mandate from the Governor will relieve school boards of that responsibility and I am glad to see a mandate.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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