Court decision on school masking order expected Thursday
A decision by a state appellate court on Illinois' indoor masking requirement at schools is expected Thursday, legal experts said.
The decision is once again likely to ignite widespread debate about the statewide order that was issued just before the start of the school year when COVID-19 cases began to climb again.
A downstate judge issued a temporary restraining order Feb. 4 barring more than 140 school districts from enforcing the mask requirement on students named in the lawsuit. However, many school districts, including several not named in the suit, opted to make indoor masking voluntary.
The Illinois General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules muddied the waters even more Tuesday when they voted to not extend an Illinois Department of Public Health emergency rule about masking for another 150 days.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed a response Wednesday to the appellate court's inquiry about how the committee's vote affected the state's appeal of the temporary restraining order.
"Plaintiffs primarily challenge the legality and enforceability of the (executive orders) issued by the governor," Raoul's response reads. "The (executive orders) require masking in school buildings, temporary exclusion of students and staff exposed to COVID-19, and the submission of weekly COVID-19 tests by unvaccinated staff working on school premises. Because JCAR's action related only to the IDPH renewed emergency rule, it does not affect the executive orders."
Lawyers for the plaintiffs agreed in their filed response.
"The JCAR actions do not carry the effect of voiding the governor's executive orders," attorney William Gerber wrote. "The appellate court may still answer the question of whether the plaintiffs had shown a likelihood of success that the governor's actions were outside the scope of his authority, because JCAR's actions do not specifically void any such executive orders."
Pritzker himself reiterated at an event in Springfield Wednesday that school districts not named in the suit should continue requiring indoor masking.
"School districts that aren't part of the lawsuit should follow the executive order," he said. "Everyone should feel comfortable wearing their masks to keep yourselves and your loved ones safe."
The governor is still hoping to drop the indoor masking requirement in most places, except schools and health care settings, by Feb. 28. He noted that hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to drop. They are currently at their lowest level since mid-November 2021, according to IDPH figures.
Pritzker was speaking at an event promoting the state's Pipeline for the Advancement of the Healthcare Workforce program that opens up state financial resources to entice people to careers in nursing and other health care service jobs.
Pritzker said $25 million has been earmarked for community colleges across the state to "remove barriers for recruitment and training of front-line health care workers."
"Participants will be able to get an industry-recognized credential or community college certificate in the shortest possible time while enhancing their eligibility for employment," Pritzker said.
Funds would help some students offset transportation, housing, meals and other ancillary costs incurred through the education process.
Illinois hospitals are reporting 1,335 fewer staffed beds than a year ago, a 4.1% drop. IDPH officials reported 32,604 staffed hospital beds this time last year. Today, there are 31,269.
New IDPH data released Wednesday shows there are 1,683 COVID-19 patients hospitalized throughout Illinois, down 32.6% from a week ago.
Of those hospitalized, 313 are in intensive care. That's down 30.3% from a week ago.
IDPH officials also reported 104 more deaths from the virus, as well as 3,323 new cases of the respiratory disease.
That brings the state's death toll from COVID-19 to 32,176, while 3,007,987 infections have been diagnosed since the outset of the pandemic.
The state's seven-day case positivity rate is at 2.8%, down from 4.9% a week ago. Case positivity is the percentage of test results that yield a new case of the disease. A seven-day average is used to account for any anomalies in the daily reporting of those figures.
IDPH officials are also reporting 19,766 more doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered statewide as well.
Vaccine providers have now administered 20,929,507 doses of the vaccine since they became available in December 2020.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting 66.9% of the state's roughly 12.7 million residents are now fully vaccinated. Of those fully vaccinated, 48.6% have received a booster dose.