CHICAGO (CBS) -- Governor JB Pritzker on Thursday announced a new statewide indoor mask mandate, and ordered all Illinois education workers, college students, and healthcare workers to get vaccinated.
Effective Monday, the new masking mandate applies to everyone over age 2 inside public places, regardless of vaccination status.
Similar mandates took effect this past week in the city of Chicago and suburban Cook County. The governor earlier this month had issued an indoor mask mandate for all public and private preschools, daycare facilities, and K-12 schools in Illinois.
The vaccine mandate applies to all education workers in preschool through college level, and the mandate for healthcare workers applies to those in hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care facilities, doctors' offices, and other similar healthcare settings.
Those people will be required to get their first dose of the vaccine by Sept. 5, and their second dose within 30 days of their first, according to the governor's office. Education workers, college students, and healthcare workers who are unwilling or unable to get the vaccine will be required to get tested for the virus at least once a week.
Healthcare, school workers, and higher education personnel and students who do not provide proof of vaccination will not be allowed to enter healthcare settings or educational facilities unless they follow the required testing protocol.
"The COVID-19 vaccine has been available to the public for many months, and in that time we've watched many of our most vulnerable individuals do what they can to protect themselves and get vaccinated. But unvaccinated workers in the healthcare system and at nursing homes have driven the majority of the breakthrough hospitalizations that we've seen in Illinois, infecting the elderly and immunocompromised residents who are the first to be hurt when their community isn't safe," Pritzker said. "Let me say that even more simply: if you're unvaccinated, you're getting the people in your care sick."
The governor said the new rules are aimed at protecting unvaccinated children from the spread of the delta variant, and preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with virus patients.
"Lets' be clear, vaccination is the most effective tool we have for keeping people out of the hospital, and preventing deaths. Nearly all Illinoisans who are hospitalized with COVID are the Illinoisans who are not vaccinated," Pritzker said.
According to the governor, through July, 98% of the COVID cases in Illinois, 96% of the state's hospitalizations, and 95% of the deaths are among the unvaccinated.
"You don't need to be an epidemiologist to understand what's going on here. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated," the governor said.
The vaccine mandate for Illinois educators, college students, and healthcare workers comes just days after the FDA gave full approval to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. Pritzker earlier this month had ordered state employees who work in congregate settings – such as prisons, veterans homes, and psychiatric hospitals – to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 4.
Asked why he's not requiring vaccinations for all state employees, Pritzker said such a mandate needs to be negotiated with the various labor unions representing state workers. He said those talks are ongoing.
Pritzker did not say specifically what would prompt him to lift any of the new mitigations.
"Until we alleviate the pressure on hospitals, we're going to need to continue to put the pressure on for people to wear masks in indoor locations, and all of the other mitigations that I've talked about today, and that we've had in place," Pritzker said.
Pritzker said vaccinations are still lagging particularly in southern Illinois, where less than half of the population is fully vaccinated, compared to more than 70% in suburban Cook County. Meantime, COVID cases in southern Illinois have surged to the point that only 3% of the region's ICU beds are available. During the spring surge, the lowest ICU bed availability in the state never dropped below 15%, according to Pritzker.
The governor said six of the state's 11 regions now have fewer than 20% of their ICU beds available.
"To put it bluntly, because of the delta variant, hospitals are again fighting the battle that we had hoped would be behind us," Pritzker said.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said, as of Wednesday night, 2,184 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized statewide, with 489 patients in the ICU and 241 on ventilators.
"I was hoping we'd never have to be here again," she said, "but right now, we are seeing 220 individuals being admitted to the hospital every day with COVID. The last time we saw this high a number was May."
COVID-19 cases in Illinois are now 40 times higher than when they reached a pandemic-low in Illinois earlier this summer, according to Ezike.
Ezike also said the state is facing ICU bed shortages, particularly in southern and central Illinois, where vaccination rates are the lowest.
"The ICU beds have run out - particularly in southern Illinois," Ezike said.
In particular, Region 5, in far southern Illinois, could run out of open ICU beds as soon as Friday, according to Ezike, and Region 4 in the Metro East area near St. Louis could run out of ICU beds by next week.
Region 3 and Region 6, in west-central and east-central Illinois respectively, could run out of ICU beds by mid-September at the rate the virus currently is spreading.
Businesses Prepare For The Renewed Mandate
CBS 2's Tara Molina visited the Will County community of Mokena as people there prepared for the mandate. Many in Will County were expecting it, after seeing Chicago and Cook County bring mandatory masks back.
A barbecue restaurant in Mokena, Doc's Smokehouse, is among the small businesses prepping for the mandate.
"I'm not anticipating any major issues with staff or guests," said John Stokes, the general manager of the restaurant.
At Doc's, they smoke all the meats and make all the sauces in-house for traditional southern barbecue, and they have a full bar stocked with beer and bourbon.
But you couldn't find a thing for about eight months. They were fully closed – no takeout, nothing at all.
"The health and safety of our guests and employees always came first," Stokes said.
They just reopened in June, and they want to stay open. So they're ready to mask up.
"We've been doing pretty well," Stokes said. "Every day is better than the last."
He said he's more than willing to go with the program and ask others to do so.
"If the toughest thing I have to do Monday is put on a mask to ensure we don't have to close businesses again, I'm fine with doing that, and I'm sure most people are," Stokes said.
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