School officials in Will County are still trying to digest Gov. JB Pritzker’s announcement that employees will soon have to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Pritzker made the announcement Thursday, citing surging cases and dwindling hospital capacity, along with a statewide indoor mask mandate for everyone, regardless of their vaccination status.
“There are some unknowns,” said Sandy Zalewski, a spokeswoman for Joliet Public School District 86.
She said District 86 has asked its staff and faculty to voluntarily report their vaccination status in the past week so she didn’t have even a rough estimate of who has gotten their shot.
Pritzker said school workers who do not get vaccinated or opt out for medical or religious reasons must be regularly tested. Since District 86 is not participating in a state program to provide rapid testing for COVID-19, Zalewski said it’s unclear how that part of the governor’s mandate will be instituted.
Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 spokesman Tom Hernandez said the details about the vaccine mandate will still have to be worked out with the local teachers union. Still, he said, once the loose ends are worked out “we will comply.”
He and Dawn Bullock, the president of the Association of Plainfield Teachers, said a little more than 70% of the district’s faculty and staff had made appointments to get vaccinated earlier this year.
While Bullock acknowledged that some of her organization’s 1,900 members have expressed concerns about a vaccine mandate and some might want to opt out for religious or medical reasons, she said she thought Pritzker’s actions were a “good idea” considering the public health situation.
As of Monday, the rolling average COVID-19 test positivity rate in Will County reached 7.1%, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data. Just a month ago, that number was below 4%. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Will and Kankakee counties have nearly quadrupled in the past month.
The governor’s mandate comes days after U.S. regulators granted full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, which some officials hope will persuade more people to get vaccinated.
For information on where to find the nearest vaccine clinic, go to willcountyhealth.org.