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Masks required for all staff, students in Illinois schools, regardless of vaccine status

The governor of Illinois announced three measures to gain control over the spread of COVID-19.

CHICAGO — The governor of Illinois announced three measures to gain control over the spread of COVID-19.

First, Governor J.B. Pritzker said all schools, for kids and students from daycare through 12th grade (ages 2 and over), must wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccine status. 

"Without these measures, we would likely see many more outbreaks than in the latter half of the last school year," said Governor Pritzker.

This mask mandate includes sports. Masks will need to be worn indoors, but not outdoors. 

"To ensure that schools have what they need... my administration is ready to supply masks to any school districts that need them," he said. All public schools have also been supplied with COVID-19 testing supplies.

This reverses guidance set forth by the Illinois Department of Public Health in July, which advised fully-vaccinated staff and students would not need to wear masks. 

Second, the governor announced all Illinois state employees that work in prisons, juvenile detention centers, veterans' homes, or facilities for mentally and physically disabled people must get vaccinated.  State workers have until October 4 to get their vaccines.

Employers both private and public have begun requiring shots against the deadly virus — President Joe Biden is considering such a requirement for all federal employees — and the law appears to be on the side of the boss. Employers can make vaccination a condition of employment, experts say.

Third, all people living and working inside long-term care facilities will be required to wear masks at all times. This includes privately owned facilities.

Going forward, the governor said they'll monitor trends in transmission, vaccine approvals, and CDC guidance to modify these requirements as needed.

Tony McCombie, Illinois State Representative for District 71, responded to the governor's announcement, calling it "inconsistent madness." 

McCombie argued that Governor Pritzker should not be making decisions for children that aren't his.

As for the vaccination requirements, McCombie said her constituents have been concerned about this.

"I don't believe that the government should force anybody to vaccinate, not at all," she said. 

The following additional mitigation strategies have been suggested by the health department for schools:

  • Screening testing
  • Ventilation
  • Handwashing
  • Coughing etiquette 
  • Contact tracing
  • Staying home when not feeling well
  • Cleaning / sanitizing

Vaccines continue to not be available to kids under age 12.

Although the 2021-2022 school year is set to be fully in-person, remote instruction has to be made available for students who find themselves under a quarantine order, according to guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story mentioned state workers must get vaccinated. The story has been updated to clarify that the mandate applies to only specific state workers.