Pritzker issues statewide mask mandate

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday masks must be worn indoors in public places starting Monday. Vaccine mandates also were announced for teachers, higher education students and health care workers.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker initiated a new indoor mask mandate for public places starting Aug. 30, regardless of vaccination status.

The mandate is driven by the rapid spread of the COVID-19 delta variant cases and decreasing hospital capacity, Pritzker announced.

Along with the statewide mask mandate for people age 2 and above, all preschool through 12th-grade teachers and staff are required to be vaccinated, along with all higher education personnel and students and health care workers in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care facilities and physician’s offices. Individuals unable or unwilling to receive their first dose by Sept. 5 will be required to get tested for COVID-19 at least once a week.

“We are running out of time as hospitals run out of beds,” Pritzker said.

No timeline for the mitigations was provided, and Pritzker said the mandates will remain until the pressure faced by hospitals is alleviated.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said as of Wednesday night, 2,184 people in Illinois were in the hospital with COVID-19, and of those, 489 were in the ICU, and 241 were on ventilators.

Pritzker said ICU usage has multiplied by a factor of seven this summer, and nearly all Illinoisans hospitalized with COVID-19 are not vaccinated.

“Let’s be clear, vaccination is the most effective tool we have for keeping people out of the hospital and preventing deaths,” he said. “You don’t need to be an epidemiologist to understand what’s going on here. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

He added regions with the lowest vaccination rates are where there are fewer hospitals and lower hospital capacity. In southern and eastern Illinois, fewer than half of the residents are fully vaccinated, compared with over 70% in Cook County. Today, the rolling average for ICU bed availability in southern Illinois is 3%. — Tammie Sloup

-More than 8.2 Illinoisans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which is 76% of the eligible population.

”I’m sure if people understood that being unvaccinated could take a hospital bed from an accident victim, they might go get vaccinated,” Pritzker said.

On Monday, the FDA approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for everyone 16 years or older, and Ezike said for everyone hesitant to get the vaccine because they believed it was experimental no longer have that excuse.

“But let’s not forget the other effective tool that we had before we had vaccines — wearing a mask continues to be one of the simplest, cheapest ways to reduce the spread of COVID,” Ezike said.

At this time, Pritzker said there’s no plan to build out more space for hospital beds, as the issue is less one of space than it is of hospital personnel.

”My number one concern is right now keeping our healthcare system available not just for people who may get COVID but for people who have other problems that would take them to the hospital,” he said.