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Masks now required in all Illinois schools, regardless of vaccination status

As the virus continues to shift and change, the governor said urgent action is needed now to slow the spread – and save lives

CHICAGO — Students, teachers and staff members at Illinois public schools will have to wear a mask this school year.

The mandate is one of three major steps the state is taking to control the spread of COVID-19, which is being fueled by the contagious delta variant, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Wednesday.

The three steps are:

  1. Statewide mask mandate for Pre-K through 12th grade schools
  2. Vaccine requirement for all state employees who work in congregate facilities
  3. Mask mandate for all long-term care facilities in the state

As the virus continues to shift and change, the governor said urgent action is needed now to slow the spread – and save lives.

“People are dying who don’t have to die,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking and it impacts us all.”

Since seeing the state’s lowest numbers earlier this summer, new COVID-19 cases are surging by a factor of nearly 10, the governor said, and hospitalizations and ICU rates have doubled in a month. Pritzker said the cases almost entirely involve those who are unvaccinated.

“Get vaccinated,” he stated, urging anyone who’s on the fence to talk to their doctor.

Given the current data trends and trajectory, Pritzker said the state has a limited amount of time to take action, as he announced the changes.

School mask mandate

Pritzker announced a statewide mask mandate for all pre-kindergarten through 12th grade schools and daycares effective immediately. He said the requirement follows CDC guidance of having everyone wear a mask inside, regardless of vaccination status.

“Our goal has been to make sure every child can go to school this fall and that the school environment is safe for everyone,” Pritzker said Wednesday.

READ MORE: CDC recommends indoor masks in parts of US where COVID is surging

The mask mandate also extends to indoor youth sports for kids in pre-kindergarten through their senior year of high school. Masks won’t be required for athletes and coaches participating in outdoor sports.

In order to change the mandate, Pritzker said state health officials will look for a reduction in virus transmission, the ability and usage of vaccines for kids younger than 12 and additional guidance from the CDC.

Pritzker said he was hoping more school districts would follow CDC guidelines on their own – and credited Edwardsville for being one of them – but since not enough districts were taking action, he said a statewide mandate was necessary.

There are 1.8 million children in Illinois who aren’t yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccine requirement for state employees in congregate facilities

Pritzker said the state is taking additional steps to protect some of Illinois’ most vulnerable residents who live in congregate facilities. These locations include veterans’ homes, developmental centers, psychiatric hospitals, juvenile justice facilities and corrections facilities.

Vaccines will be required by Oct. 4.

Pritzker cited data that showed residents in the facilities are vaccinated at higher rates than those who work in them. He said about 80% of new COVID-19 cases in state-operated congregate care facilities have been due to infection among employees.

Mask mandate for all long-term care facilities:

The state is requiring masks inside all long-term care facilities regardless of vaccination status. The mandate extends to privately owned and operated locations.

The governor also urged these facilities to implement a vaccination requirement for employees.

Illinois residents who need to get a vaccine can find a vaccination center near them at vaccine.org.