SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced Thursday a fresh statewide mandate on wearing masks indoors in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The order will take effect starting Monday and applies to everyone age 2 and older — regardless of vaccination status.
The governor also announced that all health care workers, including nursing home employees, and educators from kindergarten through college — as well as eligible students — will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing.
The mandates, which overlap in several places with existing rules, are a response to a spike in COVID-19 infections fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, particularly in southern and central Illinois.
“Our current vaccination levels are not enough to blunt the ferocity of the delta variant hospitalization surges,” Pritzker said. “In some regions, hospital administrators are asking for more help to manage the sheer number of incoming patients who, I’ll empathize again, are are almost exclusively individuals who have chosen no to have gotten the life-saving vaccine.”
Pritzker said that 98% of Illinois’ COVID-19 infections from January to July were among the unvaccinated.
“You don’t need to be an epidemiologist to understand what’s going on here. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” the governor said.
First doses of the vaccine are required by Sept. 5 for health care workers, including nursing home employees, K-12 educators and support staff and higher education teachers, staff and students. Those who don’t comply will have to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
Other cities and states have made similar requirements.
Illinois already has a mask requirement for all schools and two of the largest education systems, Chicago Public Schools and the University of Illinois, already require educator vaccinations. The U of I system also already requires student vaccinations. A large number of hospital systems have also required employee vaccines.
The surge in Illinois, with more than 4,400 cases reported Wednesday, has started overwhelming hospitals in less populated areas in the state where vaccination rates are low and there are fewer health care facilities. For instance, in southern Illinois fewer than half of the residents are vaccinated and earlier this week there was only one available intensive care unit hospital bed available, according to state health officials.