Illinois issues mask mandate, orders vaccines for schools

(Reuters) – Illinois will require all eligible students and school employees to be vaccinated and re-instituted an indoor mask mandate under an order announced by Governor J.B. Pritzker on Thursday.

Pritzker, a Democrat, issued the new policy amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases spurred largely by the Delta variant of the virus and increasing reports of “breakthrough” cases in which people already vaccinated get infected.

The statewide mask mandate applies to anyone at least two years old and will take effect on Monday.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Pritzker told a news conference. “People can slow the pandemic by masks and vaccinations,” he said.

“To put it bluntly, we are fighting a battle we thought would be over,” he said. “Unfortunately we’re running out of time as all of our hospitals are running out of beds.”

Pritzker also said that any school employees exempt from the vaccine – for religious or other reasons – will be tested at least once a week.

On Monday, the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine was given full approval for use by the federal government. But the Pfizer authorization is for people ages 16 an older, not younger children.

People wearing protective face masks walk, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, along the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., December 6, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Pritzker’s announcement came in the wake of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s recent order requiring all city employees, including police and firefighters, to be vaccinated or have proof of a valid medical or religious exemption. L1N2PW1TR

The policy in the third-largest U.S. city comes as numerous other municipalities, school districts and governments across the nation grapple with masking and vaccination requirements.

Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler

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