Illinois will require all residents to wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status in an effort to protect those vulnerable against COVID-19, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced on Thursday. The state will also require all healthcare workers and teachers and college students to be vaccinated or face strict testing requirements.
The new mandate, which goes into effect on Monday, is an effort to slow new infections as hospitals in the state become overwhelmed with cases. “Today’s actions are necessary because Delta is different,” Pritzker tweeted Thursday. “The rapid spread in Illinois and across the U.S. is holding us all back from the post-pandemic life we so desperately want – harming our most vulnerable.”
“I urge everyone: get the life-saving vaccine as soon as you can.”
Teachers will be required to be fully vaccinated by October or commit to taking a COVID-19 test once a week before being allowed on school premises. Earlier in the month, Pritzker issued a mandate requiring all students, teachers and staff to wear masks. Schools districts that refused to implement the rules were threatened with sanctions, including the loss of state funding.
Illinois is one of many states seeing a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant. Pritzker said the new restrictions are an attempt to relieve pressure on the state’s hospitals, which are currently overwhelmed with COVID patients. “Unfortunately, we are running out of time as our hospitals run out of beds,” Pritzker said Thursday.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the state’s public health director, said six of the state’s 11 regions have less than 20% bed availability in their intensive care units, with nearly 2,200 patients sick with the virus. “Right now, we are seeing 220 individuals being admitted to the hospital every day with COVID,” Ezike said Thursday. “The last time we saw this high a number was May.”
Hospitals are struggling to keep up with the influx of cases in southern and central Illinois where vaccination rates remain low. Pritzker called on all residents, especially healthcare workers to get the vaccine.
“Unvaccinated workers in the healthcare system and at nursing homes have driven the majority of the breakthrough hospitalizations that we’ve seen in Illinois, infecting the elderly and immunocompromised residents who are the first to be hurt when their community isn’t safe,” Pritzker said. “Let me say that even more simply: if you’re unvaccinated, you’re getting the people in your care sick.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday announced a mandatory vaccine mandate for all city workers, calling the decision a “necessary” step to preventing more infections. Several other states – New Jersey and California – have also implemented mandates requiring public school teachers, educators and staff to show proof of vaccination or take regular COVID-19 tests.