Pritzker says school closures possible if vaccine protection wanes

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(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker said new restrictions could be coming if COVID-19 cases continue to rise, but closing schools wouldn’t be his first choice for reducing the spread of the virus.

During a news conference Wednesday, the governor was asked if shutting down schools was an option if case numbers continue to escalate.

Pritzker said possibly, but only if the delta variant became widespread or if variants were getting past the vaccines.

“Or something was overcoming, for example, the vaccines that people have already taken and sending people to the hospital who are already vaccinated, then we would have to look at a whole new set – bottom of the list of things that we left far in the distance last year,” Pritzker said.

As schools begin to open in Illinois for the fall semester, more children are being hospitalized for COVID-19 than last year, though it still remains rare.

This month, an average of more than 30 children a day have been admitted to hospitals with COVID-19, according to a Chicago Tribune report. A year ago at this time, average daily admissions were around 20 in early August.

A mask mandate for all schools in the state remains in place. Schools that don’t comply risk being put on probation. The Illinois State Board of Education stated schools that fail to address deficiencies and submit a corrective plan could face nonrecognition, meaning a total loss of access to state funding and loss of the school’s ability to engage in any state-sanctioned athletic competitions. More than 50 schools around the state have been placed on probation.

The governor also addressed the ongoing struggle to get state workers in congregate settings such as veterans homes and prisons vaccinated.

“We basically have been working with, for several weeks, with the unions and talked to them about how we may be able to implement as of Oct. 4,” Pritzker said. “Those are ongoing conversations.”

statement from AFSCME Council 31 said the public employee union opposes rigid, universal vaccine mandates that effectively threaten employees with termination if they do not get vaccinated.

“We know there are union members who remain fearful of the COVID vaccine, as well as others who have medical contraindications or religious objections,” the union said in a statement.

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