Gov. J.B. Pritzker is ending the state’s requirement that unvaccinated school and day care workers undergo routine testing for COVID-19, removing one of the few remaining mandates Illinois has in place to combat the spread of the disease.
The change is effective Friday, a day before Pritzker’s latest 30-day pandemic disaster declaration is set to expire. It’s also less than two months before he faces 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 to require 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 at elementary and high schools, along with child care centers.
The governor’s office said in a statement Thursday that the move to end weekly testing for unvaccinated workers in those settings was made on the advice of medical experts. The administration also noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer recommends routine testing in schools, a change that came a month ago.
The administration bills the change as part of its “continuing plan to carefully unwind” the executive orders Pritzker has used to manage the pandemic.
Pritzker spokeswoman Olivia Kuncio said in an email that the unspecified medical experts “needed time to assess how the beginning of the school year went before recommending changes to the guidelines” for schools and day care centers. Kuncio also noted that vaccines for children younger than 5 have now been available for several months.
Dr. Sameer Vohra, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said a statement that new tools, such as the pediatric vaccines, new boosters aimed at the latest variants and more effective treatment have improved the ability to manage the virus.
“It remains our continued goal to address the health risks of COVID-19, but current conditions of the pandemic are different from those of the last two years,” Vohra said.
While testing is no longer required by the state and districts by and large have lifted their own requirements, the state continues to make tests available to schools, the governor’s office said.
Public health officials recently have focused on promoting the new booster shots, authorized at the end of August for people 12 and older who’ve previously been vaccinated, as the primary hope for warding off another surge as the weather turns cold and people spend more time indoors.
Pritzker echoed that message Thursday, encouraging people to get vaccinated and stay up to date with boosters.
“Although the current state of the pandemic is very different from it was two years ago, we still need to protect the most vulnerable members of our community as we continue to be responsive to the changing challenges and evolutions 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 an average of 1,450 patients per day a month earlier and 2,273 per day at the same time last year.
Hospitalizations reached an all-time high of 7,380 on Jan. 12, the peak of a surge driven by the original omicron variant, before falling to 434 by 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.
Chicago Tribune’s Tracy Swartz contributed
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