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Pritzker extends vaccine deadline for workers in state prisons, other facilities

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker takes questions from the media at Casa Queretaro in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood on Oct. 5, 2021.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday again pushed back the deadline for state workers in prisons, veterans homes and other congregate facilities to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as negotiations with unions representing those employees drag on.

The new deadline is nearly two months later the original target. State workers covered by the governor’s executive order now have until Nov. 30 to be fully vaccinated. Pritzker, who has stopped short of requiring vaccination for all state workers under his authority, originally set an Oct. 4 deadline when he announced the mandate in early August.

The latest deadline shift from Pritzker comes as Mayor Lori Lightfoot finds herself embroiled in a legal dispute with the city’s police union over a mandate that took effect Friday.

The Pritzker administration has agreements on the with several unions on the state mandate. But negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and Teamsters Local 700 are ongoing.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was asked at an unrelated news conference Monday, Sept. 20, about whether he was concerned that requirements to become vaccinated, or be tested weekly, for COVID-19 will exacerbate shortages of educators and nurses. Here's what he said.

“This administration continues to work to protect vulnerable residents in our care or custody by ensuring state employees in congregate settings receive the vaccine,” Pritzker spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement Friday.

AFSCME, which represents more than 15,000 workers who would be covered by the requirement, pushed back when Pritzker announced what the union called the “rigid mandates,” saying it would oppose “any effort to define (its members) as part of the problem rather than recognizing their dedication.”

Workers covered by the order, employed by the departments of Corrections, Juvenile Justice, Veterans Affairs and Human Services, now have until Oct. 26 to receive their first dose, and those receiving the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine must receive their second shot by the end of November. Those deadlines have been moved back from Oct. 14 and Nov. 18, respectively.

The delay “allows the unions time to communicate the agreement to their members and workers to have time to get their shots,” Bittner said. “We are working diligently to reach agreement with the remaining two unions.”

The agreements reached so far only include an alternative testing option for those with approved medical or religious objection. Those who don’t comply will face “progressive disciplinary measures” that could ultimately result in termination.

Since Pritzker announced the mandate in August, vaccination rates among employees at some of the state agencies covered by the order have improved.

At the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, for example, the staff vaccination rate has increased to just over 80% as of Thursday from 63% in late July.

The share of staff members at Department of Human Services developmental centers and psychiatric hospitals who have received at least one dose has increased to 64% from 53% in early August.

The increase has been less pronounced at the Department of Juvenile Justice, increasing to 67% from 64% in August.

The Department of Corrections did not respond Friday to a request for updated figures on staff vaccinations rates. In August, just 44% of corrections workers were fully vaccinated, compared with about 69% of inmates.

Statewide, nearly 66% of the eligible population — those 12 and older — are fully vaccinated, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Pritzker’s latest delay on the vaccine mandate comes as the summer surge, driven by the highly contagious delta variant, continues to subside.

Health officials on Friday reported 2,413 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, bring the average number of new daily cases to 2,238 over the past week. That’s the lowest level since the state average 2,099 cases during the week ending Aug. 4, the same day Pritzker announced the vaccine mandate and a mask mandate for schools.


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