September 21, 2021

Pritzker considering mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for state employees as case counts rise

New York City and California officials also announced mandatory immunizations for many public employees as cases in those locations rise and vaccination rates stagnate

New COVID-19 cases continued their rise in Illinois over the weekend as calls to make vaccinations mandatory grow louder and gain more traction.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 3,892 new infections diagnosed over the past three days, and the state is now averaging nearly 1,300 new cases a day over the past week.

New York City and California officials also announced mandatory immunizations for many public employees as cases in those locations rise and vaccination rates stagnate.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker appears to be considering a similar move.

“Vaccines have proven to be the single most effective way to prevent serious illness and death, and he encourages all eligible Illinoisans to get vaccinated,” said Emily Bittner, a governor’s office spokeswoman. “As private hospitals and employers move to mandate vaccination for their employees, the administration is also reviewing its options for mandating vaccines, particularly for state employees who work in congregate or health care settings.”

The state’s seven-day case positivity rate also climbed to 3.5% over the weekend, the highest it’s been since May 1.

Despite incentive programs to spur people to get vaccinated, like the state’s weekly summertime lottery program that announced $100,000 winners from Vernon Hills, Bolingbrook and Champaign County Monday, Illinois’ vaccination rate has leveled off for the better part of two weeks.

Meanwhile, just 41,715 more doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered over the past three days, IDPH officials reported. Vaccine providers statewide are averaging 18,439 doses a day. Just 56.2% of the state’s vaccine-eligible population is fully vaccinated, while 71.8% of that age group, Illinoisans 12 and older, has received at least one dose.

Rush University Medical Center in Chicago became the latest hospital to require vaccination as a term of employment, making COVID-19 immunization mandatory by Oct. 1.

“This decision was made after much thought and consideration of different points of view,” spokesman Tobin Klinger said. “Since Rush is a leading academic health system and a trusted source of information for our community, we feel a responsibility to follow the best science on the benefits of vaccination.”

The edict applies to all Rush facilities except Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora “at this time,” Klinger said.

A coalition of national medical groups, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Nursing, American Public Health Association and more than 50 other medical organizations are calling for mandatory vaccinations of all health care workers and those employed in long-term care settings.

“This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being,” a joint statement from the 57 organizations read. “We stand with the growing number of experts and institutions that support the requirement for universal vaccination of health workers.”

In fact, an AARP report shows just 22.6% of Illinois nursing homes are reporting 75% or more of the staff is fully vaccinated. Illinois is also in the bottom half of the states in total fully vaccinated nursing home staffs, with just 55.8% of all employees of long-term care facilities immunized, according to the report. There are 21 states with worse nursing home staff immunization rates than Illinois.

Statewide, more than 45% of the state’s 23,409 COVID-19 deaths were residents of long-term care facilities, according to IDPH records.

However, less than 6% of all 1,411,821 infections in Illinois happened in those facilities.

Illinois hospitals are currently treating 721 COVID-19 patients, according to IDPH figures. Of those hospitalized, 152 are in intensive care. In the past week, hospital admissions for COVID-19 have increased 34% and ICU admissions for the respiratory disease are up 42% during the same time frame, records show.