CHAMPAIGN — It was just two weeks ago that the Mahomet-Seymour school board approved a reopening plan.
Given the changing landscape during the pandemic, Superintendent Lindsey Hall said, she wasn’t surprised to see that the plan will need to change.
“It is clear that there is a requirement for universal masking in schools,” she said Wednesday, shortly after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced it will be required for all students, faculty and staff at all pre-kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools and day care centers in the state.The mask mandate for schools also applies to all indoor sports.
Monticello Superintendent Vic Zimmerman said he also wasn’t surprised about the mandate.
“It will actually make it easier for all schools,” he said. “I know a lot of school districts were struggling with their communities, school boards and unions in making the decision.”
There may be some resistance, he said, “but it’s an executive order from the governor.”
“I’m sure there will be some schools that will try to bust the order, but Monticello isn’t going to be one of them,” Zimmerman said.
The governor announced three new mandates as the delta variant of the virus sweeps through the state, rapidly driving up new cases and hospitalizations.
In addition to the schoolmask mandate, Pritzker also said vaccination will be required by Oct. 4 for all employees at state-operated congregate-living facilities, and mas will also be required in all long-term-care facilities in the state.
Pritzker said he hoped he wouldn’t have to make masks in schools a requirement, but far too few districts were following the federal guidance — which was updated last week to recommend requiring it for all students, staff, faculty and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.
The updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, quickly endorsed in Illinois, also included an advisory to require masks indoors for everyone in areas of substantial and high COVID-19 transmission.
Pritzker said the new school mask mandate is also based on lower vaccination rates for youths ages 12-17 and the fact that the vaccine hasn’t yet been authorized for kids under age 12. While children with COVID-19 may not get as sick as adults, he reminded, they still get infected and spread the virus to others.
Pritzker repeatedly urged those still unvaccinated to get the shot as delta-variant cases surge. Since the summer low point in COVID-19 spread, cases in Illinois have soared nearly tenfold, hospital and intensive-care rates have more than doubled in a month and the number of hospitalized patients on ventilators is nearly two-and-a-half times higher than on July 16, he said.
In June, 96 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated, with the majority under age 60.
“Please do not think the worst-case scenario cannot happen to you,” Pritzker said.
The governor praised employers that have required vaccination for their employees and said he hopes to see others join them.
In addressing the new vaccine mandate for state-operated congregate-living facilities, the governor said many long-term-care employees haven’t been vaccinated and can carry the virus into facilities to residents.
“It’s a breach of safety,” he said. “It’s fundamentally wrong, and it’s going to stop.”
Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde said the new mandates will save lives.
“I am very happy about it,” she said. “It is absolutely based on sound science.”
She also said she was happy to see the state is beginning to address the vaccination rates in long-term-care facilities.
Earlier Wednesday, the Pritzker administration released a new data dashboard showing the rates of vaccination among staffs and residents at individual nursing homes across the state.
In East Central Illinois, there were some facilities in which half or fewer of the staff members have been vaccinated.