Ill. governor extends deadline for workers in state prisons to be vaccinated
The largest state employee union pushed back on “any effort to define (its members) as part of the problem rather than recognizing their dedication”
By Dan Petrella
After pushback from the largest state employee union, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday extended his deadline for workers in Illinois prisons and other congregate settings to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by more than a month, to Nov. 18.
When Pritzker announced the vaccination mandate for workers in prisons and other residential state facilities last month, he set an Oct. 4 deadline for employees to be fully vaccinated and called on their unions to come to the bargaining table to work out the specifics.
The largest state employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, pushed back against such “rigid mandates” and “any effort to define (its members) as part of the problem rather than recognizing their dedication.”
Under the governor’s latest order, those who receive either a two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine would have to get an initial dose by Oct. 14 and the second shot by Nov. 18. Those getting the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine would have to get it by Oct. 14.
The governor’s office said Friday that progress is being made in bargaining over the mandate, but offered no further specifics on why the original deadline could not be met. “Negotiations are ongoing and productive,” Pritzker spokesperson Jordan Abudayyeh wrote in an email.
Friday’s executive order marks the second time Pritzker has delayed a deadline for a vaccine mandate. Earlier this month, he extended the deadline for health care workers, education employees and college students statewide to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or undergo regular testing. That requirement, originally slated to kick in Sept. 5, now takes effect Sunday, an extension granted after school leaders, teachers unions and the health care industry asked for more time to comply.
With bargaining ongoing, it remains unclear whether workers in the departments of Corrections, Juvenile Justice, Veterans’ Affairs and Human Services will be given the option of regular testing rather than receiving the vaccine.
AFSCME Council 31, which represents about 15,000 employees who would be subject to the mandate, did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.
When Pritzker announced the vaccination requirement in early August, just 44% of Department of Corrections workers were fully vaccinated, compared with about 69% of inmates. A department spokesperson did not respond immediately Friday to a request for updated figures.
Statewide, nearly 64% of the eligible population of residents 12 and over is fully vaccinated, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
State health officials on Friday reported 3,601 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 statewide. Over the past week, the state has averaged 3,708 cases per day.
The latest wave, driven by the highly contagious delta variant, peaked at an average of 4,440 daily cases during the week ending Sept. 4. But officials remain concerned about the potential for another rise in cases as the weather turns colder and people spend more time indoors.
Hospitalizations also have slowed in recent days, but some regions — particularly those with lower vaccination rates — are still being hit harder than others.
As of Thursday night, the 20-county southern Illinois region reported that it had no available beds in intensive care units for the fourth straight day.
The state has sent additional staff members to hospitals in the region and gotten federal approval to use beds at three U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers for the next month, among other efforts.
“That is only available to us on a limited basis, for a limited period of time period of time,” Pritzker said Friday at an unrelated event in Centreville, just outside St. Louis.
Pritzker encouraged people “to do the right thing” by getting vaccinated and encouraging others to do the same. “And, of course, making sure that our kids are masked in schools,” he said.
State health officials of Friday also reported 54 additional fatalities, bring the average number of daily deaths to 41 over the past week, the highest level since late February.
The state has recorded 24,546 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
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