Illinois Announces New Mask Rules For Schools As Fight Against COVID-19 Continues
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
All Illinois students in public and private schools will be required to wear masks inside this fall, regardless of vaccination status, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday afternoon.
Indoor school sporting events will likewise require masks for athletes and coaches. Outside sports and other activities will not require masks, as the risk of spreading COVID is significantly lower outside than it is in closed spaces. Daycares are included in the mandate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given school districts more local control when developing COVID safety plans for schools, compared to last year. However, the CDC still recommends the use of masks.
Given the CDC’s recommendations, Pritzker said he hoped that more Illinois school districts would adopt policies requiring masks of their own accord, without a statewide mandate.
In the Metro East, some school districts, including Whiteside District 115 and Edwardsville CUSD 7, had already proposed or approved universal masking policies ahead of the mandate. Others, like Belleville District 118 and Freeburg High School 77, had proposed or adopted plans that were either explicitly mask optional or said that masks would be “encouraged,” rather than required.
With the highly-contagious delta variant of the virus spreading, COVID cases and hospitalizations are rising once again in Illinois, after bottoming out in June.
During Pritzker’s press conference, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said that COVID cases among young people under the age of 20 have tripled from 2.5% to 7.8%.
Currently, only children 12 years old and older are eligible to receive the vaccine, which leaves many elementary and middle school students unable to be vaccinated at this time.
Clinical trials for children ages 2 to 11 years old are underway, Ezike said. There’s not a definitive timeline for when the vaccine will be authorized for those age groups.
“Vaccinations are an even stronger tool [than masks],” she said.
Megan Valley is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.