Illinois governor JB Pritzker has announced a statewide mask mandate and a vaccine requirement for weekly testing for all healthcare workers and educators in response to increasing Covid cases and hospital admissions in the state.
The vaccine requirements apply to all pre-K-12 teachers and staff, and higher education personnel and students in the state of Illinois and comes days after the US drug regulator fully approved the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine.
Individuals covered by the new vaccine mandate must receive the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna jabs, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, by September 5. Applicable second doses must follow within 30 days of the first dose.
Those “who do not provide proof of vaccination will be prevented from entering healthcare and educational facilities unless they follow the required testing protocol,” the statement said.
Workers and higher education students who do not comply or obtain an exemption will have to subject to a Covid-19 test at least once per week.
Additionally, starting Monday, all residents aged two or older will be required to use face coverings indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
The new measures come as “Covid-19 infection and hospitalisation rates across the state continue to increase, particularly in downstate communities with the lowest vaccination rates,” the governor and Illinois public health director Dr Ngozi Ezike said in a statement.
Southern Illinois has a vaccination rate of 44 per cent, the lowest in the state. There, only 3 per cent of ICU beds are open “as the region experiences the highest rate of Covid-19 in the state,” the officials said.
There have been 27 reported outbreaks at Illinois schools since August 1 and “hundreds of schools are being monitored for potential Covid-19 exposures”. The vast majority of Covid-19 cases and related hospital admissions in the state are among unvaccinated people.
“We are running out of time as our hospitals run out of beds,” Pritzker said.