Sources: Pritzker to order indoor masks statewide, require vaccines for school employees
Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday morning is expected to announce a statewide indoor mask mandate for everyone 2 and older as well as a vaccine mandate for all kindergarten through 12th grade and higher education employees to reduce spread of COVID-19, sources told the Daily Herald.
The vaccination order could also include long-term care workers. COVID-19 infections are inching up at nursing homes and although 85% of residents are fully vaccinated, staff rates are at 60.5% nationwide, federal data shows.
Last week, President Biden required workers at long-term care facilities serving residents on Medicare and Medicaid to be vaccinated.
The move would come after Pritzker warned Tuesday of "significantly greater mitigations" if a rise in hospitalizations continues. The governor was asked about expanding a vaccine mandate to all state workers instead of a smaller group of employees who work at congregate settings, such as veterans' homes, on Tuesday and Wednesday but avoided a direct answer.
"If hospitals continue to fill, if that happens, we're going to have to impose significantly greater mitigations," Pritzker said Tuesday in Chicago. "Those are things on the menu that we don't want to go back to."
On Wednesday, the governor said he was considering multiple options to keep hospitalizations down.
Masks again became required at all indoor public settings in suburban Cook County starting Monday, on County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's orders. The city of Chicago had already required masks indoors. But other suburban and many other downstate county health departments don't have the power to impose mask requirements.
The news comes as deaths involving breakthrough COVID-19 cases rose by 30 people in a week, with the majority involving individuals older than 65 or with underlying medical conditions, Illinois Department of Public Health data showed Wednesday.
That brings the total of vaccinated Illinoisans who succumbed to the respiratory virus to 253 out of a total of 7,326 deaths since Jan. 1, or about 3.5%.
Of the 253 people who died, about 61% were immunocompromised or suffered from an underlying medical condition, such as cancer, and 89% were 65 or older, the IDPH reported.
Medical experts stressed that the vast majority of serious COVID-19 cases they're treating in hospitals involve unvaccinated individuals.
On Wednesday, the city of Chicago and Northwestern Medicine joined those mandating vaccines for employees in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.
"In the ICU, we're seeing a fair number of cases, and virtually every single one that makes it to the ICU that has COVID-19 pneumonia is unvaccinated," said Dr. Jeff Huml, medical director of critical care at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.
"The pandemic is fast becoming a critical illness of the unvaccinated. People have free will and they have a choice, but I wish they would choose to follow the science," Huml said.
A total of 1,190 vaccinated individuals have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since Jan. 1, or less than 1% of Illinoisans who've been inoculated, the IDPH reported.
"The vaccine is still doing what we really hoped it would do at the onset, which is keep us from getting really sick," said Dr. Michael Bauer, Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital director. "It's doing a great job of that. But we are seeing you can still get a COVID-19 infection despite being vaccinated."
New cases of COVID-19 totaled 4,451 Wednesday, above the seven-day average of 3,534, with 40 more deaths from the respiratory disease, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported. The seven-day average of deaths is about 19 per day.
On Tuesday, 28,624 more COVID-19 shots were administered. The seven-day average is 24,196.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said all city employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15, and Northwestern Medicine announced a similar requirement by Oct. 31.
"Given the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant and its risk to those with underlying medical conditions and children under 12 who are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine, Northwestern Medicine physicians and staff will be required to complete COVID-19 vaccination," Communications Director Christopher King said.
Both entities said workers would be allowed to request a medical or religious exemption. At Northwestern, employees who do not comply will be required to have weekly COVID-19 tests, and on Jan. 1, vaccination will become a condition of employment.
Other hospital groups mandating vaccines include Edward-Elmhurst Health, Advocate Aurora, Loyola Medicine, University of Chicago Medicine, University of Illinois Health, Cook County Health and Rush Health.
The federal government has delivered 16,000,255 doses of vaccine to Illinois since distribution began in mid-December, and 13,861,875 shots have been administered.
So far, 6,719,139 Illinoisans have been fully vaccinated, 52.7% of the state's 12.7 million population. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses several weeks apart.
Illinois hospitals were treating 2,197 COVID-19 patients Tuesday night.
The state's positivity rate for COVID-19 cases is 5.1% based on a seven-day average.
Total cases statewide stand at 1,499,022 and 23,816 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic began.
Labs processed 78,206 virus tests in the last 24 hours.
Daily Herald reporter Jake Griffin contributed to this report.