Vaccine mandates remain for K-12 staff, not higher ed staff and students, as Pritzker looks to ‘resume normal operations’

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker has modified his COVID-19 executive orders “to ensure governments are resuming normal operations.” The move relaxes the vaccine or testing mandates in some other areas, but not others.

Pritzker has implemented a series of executive orders since March 2020, with various modifications over the past two-plus years. In August 2021, he required K-12 staff, higher education staff and students, and medical industry employees to be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 weekly.

“Vaccine mandates for higher education employees and students and emergency medical service providers will not be reissued,” the statement on modified orders said Wednesday. “Vaccination mandates will remain in place in K-12 schools, daycares. … School and daycare-aged children have much lower rates of vaccination than the general public and have less ability to consistently and safely mask. In addition, outbreaks at schools threaten the ability to continue with in-person learning and the developmental benefits it provides.”

The state’s largest teachers unions support the updated order.

“We know the best place for students, and those who teach and care for them, is in the classroom and in school buildings,” Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin said in a joint statement with the governor. “We are looking forward to the start of this school year.”

Vaccine mandates will remain in place for “state-run 24/7 congregate care facilities, and any health care facilities not covered under the federal CMS vaccine mandate (including independent doctors’ offices, dental offices, urgent care facilities, and outpatient facilities),” the statement said.

Other changes announced Wednesday include various vaccine or testing mandates being relaxed from areas like certain health-care settings.

“Unvaccinated staff at hospitals and other healthcare facilities that are certified by CMS will now be required to test weekly only if located in areas of high community level transmission,” the governor’s office announced. Nursing home staff not vaccinated in moderate community level transmission will only have to test once a week, twice a week for high level areas.

Pritzker’s office issued the announcement while the governor was out of state Wednesday. He’s in Maine attending a National Governors Association meeting.

“Vaccination continues to be the number one tool we have to fight COVID-19, and I’m proud that so many Illinoisans have taken advantage of this life-saving tool,” Pritzker said in a statement encouraging people to be “up to date” on their vaccines. “As we continue to move toward living with this virus, my administration will relax some requirements while continuing to protect the most vulnerable and ensuring we can get every federal dollar our residents are eligible to receive.”