CHICAGO/ ROBINSON/ CASEY (WTWO/WAWV) — Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced new state mask guidelines Wednesday, requiring a facial covering to be worn at all schools and long-term care facilities regardless of vaccination status.
This announcement comes as COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise across the state and is meant to prevent the spread of the highly-transmissible Delta variant. During a press conference Wednesday, Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said masks will now be required for all students, teachers and staff at pre-kindergarten through 12th grade schools and day cares across the state.
“My goal has always been to safely bring all kids back to the classroom at the start of the school year, and crucially to keep them there. without these measures we would likely see many more outbreaks than in the later half of the last school year.” Pritzker said.
According to Pritzker and Ezike, this new guideline is partially in response to a number of Illinois school districts not adopting CDC guidance on masking. The new requirement formally accepts CDC guidance released in July on universal masking for both unvaccinated and vaccinated people in schools to ensure a safe return to classrooms.
The mandate extends to all P-12 indoor sports. However, masks are not required for players or coaches in any outdoor sports.
“We don’t see them needed due to it being less likely that the virus can be spread. We hope schools will regularly test their athletes,” Pritzker added. He adds that necessary adjustments will be made on various factors, including transmission rates.
“Throughout this pandemic we’ve shifted public health protocols as circumstances have changed and we will continue to do so.” Pritzker said.
Casey Westfield will abide by state guidelines, still Superintendent Jon Julius calls the mandate “disappointing.”
“I’m obviously disappointed. We had just got our first taste of freedom so to call it on local control on what our guidelines should be, just to have it ripped way so abruptly.” Julius said.
He adds that he finds it to be more effective to have local officials making decisions on mitigation strategies.
“I think local control is absolutely important because each section of the state deals with different numbers in terms of COVID infections. I think it makes more sense to leave that control to local jurisdictions.” Julius said.
On Monday, July 9 Casey Westfield will have a decision on their back to school plan.
For Robinson, Il resident, Mary Soderlund disagrees with a mask mandate. She adds the decision should not be made by any official.
“My thought is children should not have to wear masks. Especially on buses, it’s too hot. The masks are not doing any good. I think the parents should make the decisions.” Soderlund said.
If a school were to not follow the mask mandate, they could be subject to a penalty including a liability lawsuit if a kid were to get sick or have their recognition status removed by the ISBE.
The governor also announced he intends to require all state employees employed in congregate facilities to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 4. The state is informing unions representing these employees of the intention to formalize this requirement, which includes the Departments of Human Services, Veterans’ Affairs, Corrections and Juvenile Justice working in congregate facilities.
Additionally, the state is requiring universal masking in private long-term care facilities and is strongly encouraging owners of private facilities to join the state in adopting vaccination requirements.
“Given our current trajectory in hospitalizations and ICU usage, we have a limited amount of time right now to stave off the highest peaks of this surge going into the fall,” Pritzker said. “To combat the Delta variant, Illinois is taking three key steps to protect our state’s 1.8 million unvaccinated children under 12 and their families, residents and staff of long-term care facilities and those highly vulnerable people who rely upon state employees for their daily care. I also encourage every Illinoisan who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible, as millions of their neighbors already have. This vaccine is safe, effective, and essentially eliminates the risk of hospitalization and death even from the Delta variant. In short, it’s the best tool we have.”
To help schools across the state meet this new requirement effectively, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency is distributing 2.5 million free face masks to public schools. The administration will continue to supply masks to school districts as they request assistance.