CHICAGO – All students in grades P-12 will be required to wear masks indoors to begin the school year across Illinois.
“We’re doing this for a few key reasons: lower rates of vaccination among teens aged 12 to 17, the vaccine has not yet been approved for children under 12, and because of the reluctance of some districts to adopt the CDC’s guidance. We’re ready to supply masks to any school districts that need them.” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday afternoon.
The move comes as the Delta variant continues to spread across the state.
“Given our current trajectory in hospitalizations and ICU usage, we have a limited amount of time right now to stave off the highest peaks of this surge going into the fall,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “To combat the Delta variant, Illinois is taking three key steps to protect our state’s 1.8 million unvaccinated children under 12 and their families, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and those highly vulnerable people who rely upon state employees for their daily care. I also encourage every Illinoisan who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible, as millions of their neighbors already have. This vaccine is safe, effective, and essentially eliminates the risk of hospitalization and death even from the Delta variant. In short, it’s the best tool we have.”
“Vaccination is the best way we can prevent further spread, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19 and the Delta variant,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “Data show that the vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death, and are effective against the Delta variant. We have the tools to turn the tide of another wave, but we need people to use them.”
Pritzker added indoor recreational sports will be required to once again wear masks, while outdoor activities will be able to go without.
In preparation for the start of the upcoming school year and in response to the highly contagious Delta variant, all students, teachers, and staff at pre-kindergarten – 12th grade schools and day cares will be required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, effective immediately. This guidance is in line with recommendations from the CDC.
The state is also requiring universal masking in long-term care facilities regardless of vaccination status.
Illinois is home to 1.8 million children under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. With the Delta variant infecting the younger population at a greater rate and with people under 29 years old now accounting for 12 percent of COVID hospitalizations in June, requiring the use of masks is the most effective tool to allow students to return to their classrooms safely while protecting them from the virus. Mask wearing will also help prevent unvaccinated students from transmitting the virus to more vulnerable members of their broader communities.
The mask requirement is inclusive of youth sports and activities, with masks now required for all indoor extracurriculars and sports. In line with CDC guidance, masks are not required for activities outdoors where transmission risks and rates are lower.
The administration is providing free testing to all pre-K-12 schools in Illinois outside of Chicago, which received a separate federal funding allocation for testing.
IDPH also provided additional guidance for students and staff who are exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Close contacts of a positive case can remain in school if they receive testing on days one, three, five, and seven post exposure and if they wore masks at the time of exposure.
“The CDC strengthened its guidance last week for universal indoor masking in schools, and Illinois will continue to follow the science, data, and public health experts to keep students in school and keep communities safe,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “We know that consistent and correct mask use is the simplest, most effective way to keep students safely in school, where they can learn and grow to their fullest potential.”
A number of school districts across the state have already adopted CDC guidance and implemented a mask requirement to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students, teachers, and staff and the communities they live in. Those districts include the state’s two largest school districts, Chicago and Elgin U-46, as well as Edwardsville Community School District 7, Peoria Public School District 150, Champaign Unit 4 School District, Springfield School District 186, and Naperville School District 203.
To help schools across the state protect the health and safety of students and staff, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) has distributed 2.5 million free face masks to public schools since the beginning of the pandemic. The free masks grant every child the ability to access the learning opportunities provided by their school in person, regardless of their ability to purchase a face covering or make one at home. The administration will continue to supply masks to school districts as they request assistance.
All Illinois residents over the age of 12 are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost and proof of immigration status is not required to receive the vaccine. To find a vaccination center near you, go to vaccines.gov.