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Illinois Schools Must Require Masks For Everyone Under New Mandate, Pritzker Says

Chicago Public Schools had already planned to require masking of everyone, vaccinated or otherwise.

A student looks on as public officials tour classrooms at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy while CPS continues its reopening plans in the Lake View neighborhood on March 1, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Everyone will be required to wear masks in Illinois schools as in-person learning resumes this fall, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Wednesday.

Masks will be required for everyone, vaccinated and not, when they are indoors. That extends to sports, as student athletes and coaches will have to wear masks when playing indoors, though they do not need to do so when outside, Pritzker said.

Chicago Public Schools had already planned to require masking of everyone.

But the mandate is expected to fuel debate in other schools and parts of the state, as masking in schools has proven a divisive issue.

Officials hope the mandate will protect students, staff and communities as in-person learning resumes.

“This virus can be taken home fairly easily …,” Pritzker said.

Coronavirus has been surging throughout Illinois, fueled by the more contagious Delta variant. Children have not been immune, with COVID-19 hospitalizations rising among young people, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“We have clearly witnessed that spread [among youth] this summer throughout Illinois,” Ezike said.

“Numerous” cases have been linked to youth camps where masks weren’t worn indoors and people’s vaccination status wasn’t checked, Ezike said. And Delta has been the predominant strain among the youth cases that were tested from those outbreak, she said.

“Masks are a critical tool to interrupt transmission of the virus,” she said. “Vaccination is our even stronger tool. It’s our best tool.”

But children 12 and younger are not yet eligible to get vaccinated and thereby be best protected against the virus.

RELATED: COVID Hospitalizations Have Doubled In A Month In Illinois, Pritzker Says As Delta Surges

State workers in congregate facilities — including veterans homes and correctional facilities — must also get vaccinated, Pritzker said. They have until Oct. 4 to get their shots.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, have said they’ll bring back restrictions and safety measures if cases continue to rise due to the Delta surge. Officials have blamed the latest wave on the more contagious variant, not enough people getting vaccinated and people letting down their guard.

Because Chicago is now seeing a “substantial” amount of community transmission, it’s recommended — though not yet required — everyone 2 and older wear a mask when indoors in public.

But Arwady said leaders do not yet see a reason to bring back other safety precautions.

Chicago’s positivity rate has climbed to 3.5 percent, up from .5 percent about a month ago, on July 6. It’s also reporting an average of 252 cases per day — and saw 212 confirmed cases just in the past day. In comparison, on July 6, the city reported an average of 33 cases per day.

But hospitalizations remain low, with an average of nine to 10 people being hospitalized per day with COVID-19, Arwady said. That’s “much, much better than we had seen” in past surges, she said.

And at the peak of the first surge, in spring 2020, the city saw an average of 50 people dying per day from COVID-19 — but that’s now at about one person day, Arwady said.

“As cases go up, that probably will go up,” Arwady said. “But, again, [we’re] not expecting something similar to what we’ve seen in the pre-vaccine surges.”

The lower numbers of people being hospitalized and dying from the latest wave of COVID are due to the vaccines, Arwady said. The vaccines being used in the United States have been shown to largely prevent severe illness and death.

Thanks to the vaccines, Chicago has “seen dramatically fewer hospitalizations and deaths” during this latest surge than it saw in the past, Arwady said.

Officials have said about 97 percent of people who have been hospitalized with or died from COVID-19 since January were not fully vaccinated.

And more than 99.9 percent of Chicagoans who are vaccinated have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 since getting their shots, Arwady said.

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 6.5 million people of all ages — or 51.21 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — have gotten all their COVID-19 vaccine shots, according to state data.

• Across the state, 28,180 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 13,336,841 vaccine doses of the 14,980,195 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.4 million Chicagoans — or 52.6 percent of all residents — have gotten fully vaccinated. About 59 percent of all Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.

The numbers:

• Eighteen Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19 since Tuesday.

• At least 23,476 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 2,484 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 2,364 cases since Tuesday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 1,430,265.

• Since Tuesday, 50,960 tests were reported statewide. In all, 27,056,446 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day positivity rate was at 4.4 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was also at 4.4 percent Tuesday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 5.1 percent. It was at 5 percent Tuesday.

• As of Tuesday night, 246 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 94 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, four deaths were reported since Tuesday. There have been at least 5,514 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of more than one death per day, a 33 percent decrease from the week prior.

• Chicago has had 212 confirmed cases reported since Tuesday. It’s had a total of 291,118 confirmed cases. An average of 252 confirmed cases are being reported per day, a 41 percent increase from the week prior.

• At the same time, testing has increased 16 percent since a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 3.5 percent, up from 2.7 percent the week prior.

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