Pritzker mandates masks for Illinois schools

Pritzker mandates masks for Illinois schools

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a statewide mask mandate for Illinois schools, overriding local school boards.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker imposed a statewide mask mandate for Illinois schoolchildren effective immediately, reversing his earlier stance.

Pritzker issued the mask mandate Aug. 4 for preschool through high school students and school staff, regardless of vaccination status. He said he was imposing the mandate because school districts were not making the mask decision on their own. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updates July 27 to its school guidance, advising all teachers, students and staff in every K-12 school to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

“Far too few school districts have chosen to follow the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prescription for keeping students and staff safe,” Pritzker said during a press conference. “Given the CDC’s strong recommendation, I had hoped that a state mask requirement in schools wouldn’t be necessary, but it is.”

Pritzker’s announcement runs counter to earlier statements that school district leaders, in consultation with local public health departments, should make decisions about masks and other mitigation protocol.

“Families should be involved in making decisions for their own families. And, school districts and school boards will make decisions for the schools within their districts,” Pritzker said July 17.

Pritzker recently gave himself emergency powers for the 19th time, which allow him to impose a statewide mandate.

Three of Illinois’ neighboring states are opening schools without statewide mask mandates.

Pritzker said he is reacting to a rise in COVID-19 cases being driven by the Delta variant, which experts say is more than twice as contagious.

However, the number of daily deaths in Illinois has remained below 20 since June 16, and COVID-19 patients occupied a small fraction of the available ICU beds and ventilators.

Illinois’ statewide transmission rate averaged nearly 72 people per 100,000 during the week ending Aug. 1, ranking transmission as “substantial.” There were 65 counties ranked as “high” transmission of over 100 cases per 100,000 people during the prior week and 30 counties as “substantial” for 50 to 100 cases.

The Illinois Department of Public Health recently reported 169 deaths and 644 hospitalizations from “breakthrough infections.”

As of Aug. 3, about 73% of eligible Illinoisans have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 57% were fully vaccinated.

Many parents argue their children’s health is their responsibility, and some educators and experts question the developmental and emotional impacts from masking young students.

“Students with significant behavioral challenges and some of our medically fragile students with physical handicaps often cannot wear a mask or keep them on their faces independently,” said Kim Breust Neilson, a school social worker in Lake in the Hills, Illinois. “COVID-19 restrictions and masking policies completely go against what we have taught kids for decades about cooperation and have disproportionately affected these special needs populations and left them without appropriate services.”

Pritzker also announced vaccination mandates and masking requirements for some state employees, including at prisons and group living facilities such as veterans’ homes and other long-term care facilities, effective Oct. 4. Masks must be worn by everyone in those facilities, he said.

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