Gov. JB Pritzker is removing the state’s requirement that unvaccinated school and daycare workers undergo routine testing for COVID-19, removing one of the few remaining mandates Illinois has to combat the spread of the disease.
The change takes effect Friday, one day before Pritzker’s latest 30-day pandemic disaster declaration expires. He is also less than two months away from facing voters in the Nov. 8 general election, where his handling of the pandemic is expected to be a key issue.
School districts can continue to set their own requirements, and following the governor’s announcement, a Chicago Public Schools spokesperson said the district intends to continue requiring weekly testing for unvaccinated staff members.
In July, Pritzker ended similar state requirements for colleges and universities and eased some testing requirements for health care workers, but left the rules in place for staff in primary and secondary schools, along with child care centers.
The governor’s office said in a statement Thursday that the decision to end weekly testing for unvaccinated workers in those settings was made on the advice of medical experts. The administration also noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer recommends routine testing in schools, a change that came about a month ago.
The administration is announcing the change as part of its “ongoing plan to carefully undo” the executive orders that Pritzker has used to handle the pandemic.
Pritzker spokeswoman Olivia Kuncio said in an email that unspecified medical experts “needed time to assess how the start of the school year went before recommending changes to the guidelines” for schools and day care centers. Kuncio also pointed out that vaccines for children under 5 years of age have already been available for several months.
Dr. Sameer Vohra, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in a statement that new tools such as pediatric vaccines, new boosters targeting the latest variants, and more effective treatment have improved the ability to control the virus. .
“It remains our ongoing goal to address the health risks of COVID-19, but the current conditions of the pandemic are different from the last two years,” Vohra said.
While the state no longer requires the tests and districts have generally dropped their own requirements, the state continues to make the tests available to schools, the governor’s office said.
Recently, public health officials have focused on promoting the new booster shots, licensed in late August for people 12 and older who have been previously vaccinated, as the main hope for staving off another surge as the weather warms. it gets colder and people spend more time inside.
Pritzker echoed that message Thursday, encouraging people to get vaccinated and keep up with boosters.
“Although the current state of the pandemic is very different from two years ago, we still need to protect the most vulnerable members of our community as we continue to respond to the changing challenges and evolution of this virus,” he said in a statement.
During the week ending Wednesday, there were an average of 1,284 patients in Illinois hospitals per day, down from the average of 1,450 patients per day the previous month and 2,273 per day in the same period last year.
Hospitalizations hit an all-time high of 7,380 on January 12, the peak of an increase fueled by the original omicron variant, before falling to 434 on April 2.
Over the past week, the state has averaged 12 COVID-19 deaths per day. As of Thursday, the statewide death toll stood at 34,875 since the start of the pandemic.
Tracy Swartz of the Chicago Tribune contributed