Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker ordered that all children and staff in schools and daycares wear masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and mandated that state employees in prisons and other congregate facilities be vaccinated.
The order, which was issued on Wednesday and made effective immediately, ensures that essentially all Illinois children – from kindergarten to high school – will be forced to wear masks during school hours, regardless of vaccination status. Coaches and students participating in indoor sports, such as volleyball and basketball, also must be masked.
“As your governor, it’s my duty to say that we must take immediate and urgent action to slow the spread of the Delta variant,” Pritzker said. “People are dying who don’t have to die.” He added that with Covid-19 hospitalizations rising, “we have a limited time to stave off the highest peaks of this surge going into the fall.”
I wish we could avoid having COVID interfere with our summer. But the virus and its effects are increasing once again, and the largest group affected who are being hit especially hard are the unvaccinated.⁰Here’s how we’re combatting the Delta variant in Illinois: pic.twitter.com/RVVuvfoGdz
— Governor JB Pritzker (@GovPritzker) August 4, 2021
The statewide mandate comes after some Illinois school districts declined to follow guidance from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) calling for compulsory mask-wearing, instead making face coverings optional. The CDC reversed course on mask mandates in schools and other indoor settings last month, noting that even vaccinated people can catch and spread the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19.
Illinois has about 1.8 million children under the age of 12, meaning they are ineligible for any of the vaccinations that have been authorized for use in the US. School mask mandates have been highly controversial across the US, with critics arguing, among other points, that children aren’t susceptible to serious illness from Covid-19.
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In fact, even as the pandemic killed millions of people across the globe last year, child mortality declined, according to a research project called the Human Mortality Database. The US has seen 416 Covid-19 deaths in people 18 and under, according to CDC data, but Dr. Marty Makary, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said he’s not found even one example of an otherwise healthy child who was killed by the virus. A Johns Hopkins study encompassing about half of US health insurance data found that all pediatric Covid-19 deaths were in children with pre-existing conditions, such as leukemia.
But proponents of masking children in schools have pointed out that even if students aren’t at high risk of serious illness, they can spread the virus to more vulnerable people, such as elderly relatives. In Australia, Queensland’s chief health officer, Jeanette Young, this week went so far as to tell unvaccinated grandparents to “please don’t go anywhere near your grandkids.”
Like other US states, Illinois has seen new Covid-19 infections trend upward in recent weeks amid spread of the Delta variant. The state reported 2,364 new cases and 18 deaths on Wednesday. That’s still a far cry from the peak level of more than 12,000 a day last November, but infections were well below 1,000 a day from late May through early July.
Pritzker’s vaccine mandate will affect state employees in congregate facilities, such as prisons and long-term care facilities. “Our most vulnerable residents, such as veterans who can’t live on their own and adults living with developmental disabilities have no choice but to live amongst these workers,” the governor said.
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