Illinois Announces Mask Mandate for Schools, Effective Immediately

On Wednesday, Aug. 5, Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker announced a mask mandate for schools to take effect immediately. All students, teachers and staff, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks indoors to prevent the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19. The mandate applies to all public and private K–12 schools and daycares.

The mandate also applies to indoor youth sports for students ages preK–12. Student athletes and coaches participating in outdoor sports activities will not be required to wear masks.

“As your governor, it’s my duty to say that we all must take immediate and urgent action to slow the spread of the delta variant,” said Pritzker. “People are dying who don’t have to die.”

The school mask mandate is the first step of a three-step plan to curtail the spread of the delta variant in the state of Illinois. The second is a vaccine requirement for all state employees working in “congregate facilities,” and the third is a mask mandate within all long-term care facilities.

Pritzker said that the mandate will be rescinded once state health officials start seeing reductions in virus transmissions. Other factors will include the availability of vaccines for children younger than 12 and continuing guidance from the CDC.

“Far too few school districts have chosen to follow the federal Centers for Disease Control’s prescriptions for keeping students and staff safe, though I want to commend the districts in Edwardsville, Champaign, Peoria, Springfield, Elgin, Chicago and others for already doing the right thing for their students,” said Pritzker. “Given the CDC’s strong recommendation, I had hoped that a statewide school mask requirement wouldn’t be necessary, but it is.”

According to local news sources, reactions to the mask mandate are predictably varied.

“I think he didn’t want to take the responsibility and accountability for this to begin with, because he didn’t want the blowback,” said Ronak Maisuria, a parent of an Illinois K–12 student. “I give him credit for finally issuing a mandate, but he should have done it from the beginning.”

Meredith Darbyshire, parent of two Illinois K–12 students, disagrees: “My position is, it’s the parents’ choice,” she said. “And I believe that it should be optional, and it should be left up to the parents to make that decision for their family and what is best for their children.”

The controversy comes as the percentage of COVID cases among people less than 20 years old has more than doubled (and as the number of hospitalizations has tripled) since January. “There is an abundance of epidemiological evidence supporting community masking to reduce the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.