Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker will announce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all public and private school employees and a statewide requirement that masks be worn in all indoor public spaces by those 2 and older, multiple sources confirmed late Wednesday.
The school component of Pritzker’s new edict, which the governor will unveil Thursday, would give teachers and educational staff the option of foregoing vaccines if they instead agree to obtaining COVID-19 tests twice a week.
The move comes as hospitals’ intensive-care unit space has been filling up in under-vaccinated regions downstate, where the delta variant is spreading unabated.
All but one of Illinois’ 102 counties are experiencing a high transmission rate for the coronavirus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier this week, Pritzker warned of more aggressive mitigation efforts in a bid to tamp down the latest surge of the deadly illness.
Last Friday, state public health authorities reported 24,682 new cases for the previous week, including 126 additional deaths related to COVID-19.
The Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the two statewide teacher unions, have not yet reacted to the news of a school staff mandate. But the national teacher unions have not opposed such mandates.
Earlier this month, Chicago Public Schools announced a vaccine mandate for staff and said that if staff don’t comply they will be ineligible to work. CPS will allow for religious and medical exceptions.
The state of California and the New York City school district also have vaccine mandates, but, like Illinois, will allow staff to not get vaccinated and instead get weekly testing.
Pritzker already has required everyone in schools to wear a mask. A handful of districts that have refused to comply face decertification from the state board of education. He’s also mandated state employees who work in congregate settings such as prisons and veterans’ homes receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
State public health data currently shows five COVID-19 outbreaks at schools in Cook and four downstate counties. As of Aug. 14, the state logged 2,354 cases of COVID-19 among those between the ages of 12 and 17. Nearly 2,200 cases were reported for those between 5 and 11.
In both age groupings, those totals represent the highest weekly amount since January, state data show.