Masking will be universally required in Illinois schools, and state employees who work in prisons, homes for the developmentally disabled and veterans homes must get vaccinated for the coronavirus, according to mandates handed down Wednesday by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker — a move that immediately drew rebuke from friends and foes alike.
For some, the precautions Pritzker is taking to prevent another COVID-19 surge couldn’t come soon enough; the Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers unions praised the mandatory masks-in-schools rule.
“As school resumes soon in most Illinois districts, we welcome his updated mask mandate. With the large number of unvaccinated individuals and the rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant in Illinois, requiring masks in all schools is a prudent course of action,” IFT President Dan Montgomery said in a statement.
Likewise, after COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons and veterans homes (including a cluster of cases at the LaSalle home that resulted in an ongoing lawsuit against the Pritzker administration), those with loved ones who reside in those facilities may feel some measure of relief with the knowledge that workers there will have to get the vaccine by Oct. 4.
But Illinois Republicans were quick to accuse Pritzker of once again overstepping his authority.
Members of the Republican Party have been frustrated throughout the pandemic by Pritzker’s reliance on executive orders to control the spread of COVID-19, rather than cooperating with the legislature.
“The governor’s continued unilateral, go-it-alone approach on pandemic decision-making actively undermines the state’s ability to have broadly accepted mitigation strategies,” state Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said in a statement. “If he really wants to achieve the best possible mitigation results, he would abandon this singular approach and instead bring others to the governing table to ensure that mitigation efforts will be broadly accepted by the populace and effectively implemented. By continuing to exclude other state and local leaders, he is failing the people of Illinois who need statewide coordination, input and buy in from the public.”
State Rep. Mike Murphy, a Republican from Springfield, said the General Assembly should be called back into session if action needs to be taken to combat the coronavirus.
“The Speaker should call the House back into session so the legislature can take an active role, as a coequal branch of government, in whether or not to issue a new mask mandate in our schools or leave it up to the local officials, health leaders and parents to make the best decision for their communities and families. It’s long past time for the Governor to stop acting alone,” Murphy said in a statement.
The trio of Republicans who have declared they’re running for the nomination to take on Pritzker in next year’s election were more pointed in their criticism.
“Pritzker’s mandatory vaccination order for state workers is inconsistent with the civil liberties that I spent 24 years on active duty defending,” candidate Paul Schimpf, a marine veteran, said in a statement. “Furthermore, his P-12 education mask mandate usurps the authority of parents, school board members, and superintendents, further undermining confidence in the rule of law. I vehemently disagree with Governor Pritzker’s action today.”
Another candidate, business owner Gary Rabine, attempted to cast doubt on doctors’ and medical experts’ testaments that face coverings can help mitigate COVID-19’s spread.
In a press release, Rabine’s campaign called mask efficacy “sketchy at best.”
“This is about control – not about science,” Rabine said. “We know that kids are at a low risk for the virus. Our kids had a rough year last year thanks to Governor Pritzker’s policies. We should allow local school boards to work with parents and students to set mask policies at the local level, instead of Pritzker’s one-size-fits-all solution.”
State Sen. Darren Bailey, who gained popularity in COVID-19 skeptic circles when he filed lawsuits against Pritzker’s mandates that limited business operations during the pandemic, said he is again considering taking legal action, though he has not done so yet.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky