Daycare workers across the state of Illinois are now required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or face weekly testing. This development comes from an executive order issued by Governor JB Pritzker on October 22. The mandate impacts over 55,000 daycare workers in the 2,872 licensed daycare centers in the state. A news release about the mandate indicates that the weekly testing benchmark for non-vaccinated daycare workers may increase to more than just once per week.
The care experts say the mandate is to protect children not yet old enough to get COVID-19 vaccinations. Governor Pritzker explains, “Vaccinations offer life-saving protection for the people who receive them and make the community safer for the people who can’t – including the babies, toddlers, and young children not yet eligible for the vaccine.” Pritzker adds, “By extending vaccine-or-test requirements to those who work at licensed daycare centers, we are adding another level of protection for our youngest residents and preventing outbreaks in daycare centers as more and more parents return to work.”
The executive order has a short grace period. One of the most at-risk sectors of the population, licensed daycare center staff must receive their first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a single dose vaccine no later than December 3, 2021. They must have their second of the two-dose vaccines by January 3, 2022. Daycare workers who choose not to get their first vaccine by December 3 will have to submit to COVID-19 testing at least once a week, though that test frequency could increase up to two to three times per week. The state has had a masking requirement in place for all Pre-K to grade 12 schools and childcare facilities since August 4, 2021. The masking mandate also includes indoor P-12 recreation.
Governor Pritzker’s vaccination mandate has met both positive and negative criticism. According to Senate Republican Deputy Leader Sue Rezin, State Senators Terri Bryant, Sally Turner, and Jil Tracy, “The most recent mandate is an attack on working mothers as they resume a more normal work schedule.” The foursome issued a joint statement saying, “Governor Pritzker’s action has the potential to exacerbate an already growing childcare crisis in our state. It’s a shortsighted act that will diminish the already limited and sparse availability of childcare to families in Illinois.” However, Marc D. Smith, Director at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, praises the mandate: “Parents and families across Illinois trust daycare staff with the health and safety of their young children every day. Vaccinated daycare workers offer another level of protection and an increased level of comfort for parents and caregivers whose infants and toddlers are not yet eligible for the vaccine.”
Dr. Jill Andrews, the Founder, and Administrator of Kiddie Kollege of Fairfield states, “As child care providers and staff, we have to do what we can to protect families’ children. Parents want to know their children are safe in our care. We also want to protect the financial security of our staff, and of our center, and the vaccine can help us do that to get to a healthier, more stable future.” Brenda Crisp, the Executive Director of Uni Pres Kindercollege adds, “Childcare teachers and providers aren’t just protecting themselves with the vaccine, they’re protecting others, including the children they care for. Many of us get flu shots every year, and we should do the same for the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s get vaccinated, or get tested so that we can protect ourselves, the children we care for, and our futures.” Dara Munson, the President, and CEO of Family Focus states, “We continue to fight COVID-19 – and vaccination is the best step to do just that. I am always inspired by our caregivers and this is a moment to demonstrate that the health and safety of everyone, especially our youth, comes first.”
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), supports the vaccine mandate, noting that “For continued, ongoing protection of our youth not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, this Executive Order is the best way to protect the lives of thousands of Illinoisans. Scientific and medical experts have reviewed the data and found the COVID-19 vaccine will avoid serious illness, hospitalization, and even death.” Grace B. Hou, the Secretary of Illinois Department of Human Services adds, “Thanks to Governor Pritzker’s leadership, the requirement for vaccination will help our daycare workers who are the woven fabrics of our communities across the state put their health first and best protect children. Our goals are simple. We want to keep our youth protected from COVID-19 in every way possible.”
The new mandate comes on the heels of a report recently released from the Kaiser Family Foundation that revealed about 90,000 COVID-19 adult deaths could have been prevented between June and September 2021 if they’d been vaccinated. Currently, all residents in Illinois aged 12 and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is free, and proof of citizenship is not required to receive the vaccine. As of November 12, 2021, the IDPH says there have been a total of 1,735,586 COVID-19 cases in the state resulting in 26,077 deaths and an additional 2,909 probable deaths. A total of 37,016,510 COVID-19 tests have been conducted and the positivity 7-day rolling average is at 2.5% case positivity and 3% test positivity. Regarding school and youth data, all but 15 of the counties in Illinois are classified as high transmission with 13 of the remaining counties designated as substantial transmission and just two counties with moderate transmission. The state legislators are attempting to control the virus and are slowly doing so by implementing vaccine mandates in sectors where vulnerable populations exist.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.