Pointing to rising cases and hospitalization of people with COVID-19, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is requiring everyone to wear masks inside schools with pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students. The governor also is requiring everyone to wear masks inside long-term care facilities. The requirement applies regardless of an individual’s vaccine status.

“People are dying who don’t have to die,” the governor said.

“I had hoped a state mandate (requiring masks) would not be necessary, but it is,” Pritzker said. Too few school districts in the state were following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines about wearing masks indoors, he added.

Masks, likewise, will be required during indoor PreK-12 school extracurricular activities and sports, but not for outdoor ones.

“Masks are a critical tool to interrupt transmission of the virus,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois Department of Public Health director. “Vaccinations are our best tool,” but are not available for children younger than 12.

Pritzker said the state will supply free COVID testing to all pre-K-12 schools in the state outside of Chicago, which received separate federal funds for testing. The state has distributed 2.5 million free face masks to schools and will continue doing so when schools request assistance.

Pritzker and Ezike noted COVID hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions have more than doubled in a month. COVID patients requiring ventilators multiplied nearly 2.5 times since July 16. The Delta variant is spreading rapidly among people who aren’t vaccinated.

The governor also is requiring masks in public long-term care facilities and “strongly encourages” the same in private facilities. He also is requiring all state employees working at prisons, veterans’ facilities and juvenile justice facilities to be vaccinated by Oct. 4. He is encouraging private long-term care facilities to require their employees to be vaccinated.

Asked about schools’ options, Pritzker responded they may add social distancing, plexiglass shields and other mitigation options, but he is not requiring that.

Districts that don’t follow the new mask mandate face potential liability issues for not adhering to a state mandate and the Illinois State Board of Education has the ability to remove the school’s recognition status, the governor said.

Pritzker and Ezike urged people to get vaccinated and parents to ensure their teens 12 and older are vaccinated. Those who are still undecided should “talk to your own doctor about your concerns,” the governor said.

Asked what requirements might be ahead, Pritzker warned, “We’re evaluating every day.”