From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pritzker administration has implemented policies and guidelines in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to slow the spread of the virus and protect the health and safety of residents. With the Delta variant causing a rapid increase in infection rates across the state and nation and downstate hospitals in Illinois approaching capacity for hospital and ICU beds, employees in high-risk settings will now be required to receive the vaccine or be subject to routine testing. Earlier this month, the administration announced that employees at all State-run congregate facilities would be required to be vaccinated.
To lower the number of breakthrough cases that require hospital admission, the majority of whom are 65 and over or immunocompromised, all healthcare workers, including workers at public and private nursing homes, must get vaccinated. Teachers and staff at pre-k-12 schools as well as personnel and students at higher education institutions are required to receive the vaccine. Workers and students in applicable settings must receive the first dose of a two-dose vaccination series or a single-dose vaccination by September 5, 2021. Second doses of the vaccine must be received by 30 days after the first dose.
Workers who do not receive the vaccine or those who opt out for medical reasons or based on a sincerely held religious belief must follow a routine testing schedule to detect cases early and prevent further spread. Testing will be required a minimum of once per week in schools and healthcare facilities. The frequency of testing may be required to increase in the event of positive cases.
Healthcare, school workers, and higher education personnel, and students attending in-person classes who do not provide proof of vaccination will be prevented from entering healthcare and educational facilities unless they follow the required testing protocol.
The COVID-19 vaccine has been available for healthcare and nursing home workers since December 15, 2020, and open to teachers since January 25, 2021. To increase ease of access for all residents, the Pritzker administration established 25 mass vaccination sites across the state that were run by members of the Illinois National Guard (ILNG) who administered 1,869,755 shots to residents across the state. Additionally, teams of ILNG members supported over 800 mobile vaccination clinics across the state on top of an additional 1,705 state-supported mobile sites that focused on communities hardest hit by the pandemic, young residents, and rural communities.
The administration also launched vaccination clinics in communities experiencing high case rates. Clinics were set up in central locations within communities including schools and houses of worship and were also present at community events and, most recently, the Illinois State Fair and upcoming Du Quoin Fair.
Building on these efforts to make access to the COVID-19 vaccine equitable and easy, the administration has offered support to every school district in the State in the form of free mobile vaccination events. So far, the administration has hosted 138 school-focused event with another 163 scheduled for the coming days and weeks.
To slow the spread of the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant, all Illinois residents over the age of two will be required to wear a mask in all indoor settings, effective Monday, August 30th. The requirement is applicable to both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents statewide. Countless studies have demonstrated the efficacy of masks at preventing the spread of COVID-19, with the CDC identifying at least 10 that confirm the benefit of universal masking via community-level analyses - including two U.S. states - in addition to observational, economic, epidemiological, and cross-sectional survey studies. A small sampling can be found below:
- "Community Use of Face Masks And COVID-19: Evidence From A Natural Experiment of State Mandates In The US" found an estimated overall initial daily decline in new diagnoses of 0.9% grew to 2.0% at 21 days following mandates.
- "Trends in County-Level COVID-19 Incidence in Counties With and Without a Mask Mandate — Kansas, June 1-August 23, 2020" studied a Kansas executive order requiring mask-wearing in public spaces from which county authorities could opt-out. The estimated case rate per 100,000 decreased by 0.08 in counties with mask mandates but increased by .11 in those without.
- "Association of Country-wide Coronavirus Mortality with Demographics, Testing, Lockdowns, and Public Wearing of Masks" evaluated 169 countries on per-capita mortality on potential predictors including age, gender, obesity prevalence, temperature, urbanization, smoking, duration of the outbreak, lockdowns, viral testing, contact-tracing policies, and public mask-wearing norms and policies. Duration of mask-wearing by the public was negatively associated with per-capita mortality from COVID-19.
While face coverings are not required outdoors, masks are strongly encouraged in crowded outdoor settings like festivals and concerts as well as for activities that require close contact with people who are not vaccinated.
These latest vaccine, testing, and mask requirements are a floor in the state's efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Employers, schools, and other organizations can take additional health and safety steps to help bring an end to the ongoing pandemic. Governor Pritzker previously announced more stringent requirements regarding vaccination and testing for state employees at state-run 24-7 congregate living facilities to protect the state's most vulnerable residents. Leaders in the private sector are encouraged to follow suit.