“Our current vaccination rates are not sufficient to mitigate the severity of hospital stays for the Delta variant,” said Pritzker, a first-term Democrat, at a press conference in Chicago. “In some regions, hospital administrators are asking for more help to cope with the sheer number of patients arriving, who, as I will say again, are almost entirely those who have chosen not to have the life-saving vaccine.”
Pritzker said the requirements are designed to better protect vulnerable populations, including young children who are not yet qualified for vaccines. Pritzker said 98% of Illinois COVID-19 infections from January through July were unvaccinated.
Ordering masks starting on Monday applies to everyone from 2 years of age, regardless of vaccination status. It resembles an order issued in May 2020 that was later relaxed for vaccinated people. The first doses of the vaccine are required by September 5 for health care workers, including nursing home workers, K-12 educators and support staff, and college professors, staff and students. Those who do not comply will have to undergo weekly COVID-19 tests.
Other cities and federal states have made similar requirements. Earlier this month, California required all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or have weekly tests.
The surge in Illinois, with more than 4,400 cases reported on Wednesday, has left hospitals in less populated areas of the state, where vaccination rates are low and fewer healthcare facilities, overwhelmed. In southern Illinois, for example, fewer than half of residents are vaccinated, and earlier this week there was only one available hospital bed in the intensive care unit, according to state health officials.
According to Pritzker’s office, the country’s health authorities reported more than two dozen COVID-19 outbreaks in schools in August.
Illinois already has a mask requirement for all schools and two of the largest education systems, the Chicago Public Schools and the University of Illinois, already require vaccinations for educators. The U of I system also requires student vaccinations. A large number of hospital systems also required staff vaccines.
Teachers’ unions have been in favor of vaccination and masking rules, but some schools have not enforced them and there have been complaints from some private schools and conservative lawmakers.
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(Copyright 2021 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)