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While the coronavirus remains overwhelmingly a threat to older, unvaccinated people who have other health problems, Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week kicked off another policy brouhaha by ordering state employees to get shots and students returning to school to wear masks.

Public-employee union leaders like AFSCME’s Roberta Lynch were quick to express their indignation over the vaccination mandate on members while Republican legislators complained that the governor should leave the school mask issue to local boards.

Disagreements like this have prompted Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, to describe herself as “heartbroken that we have made people’s health a political football.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Democratic House Speaker Chris Welch decried the GOP’s stance. She cited support for mask mandates for students by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control.

“I’m not sure why Republicans don’t trust doctors,” she said.

The GOP replied that Republicans do trust doctors, but that doctors say different things.

Included among the authorities they cite are two prominent physicians associated with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Tufts Children’s Hospital.

The two professors write that there is “no science behind mask mandates for children,” and they vigorously dispute the claims that masks on children “can’t do any harm.”

“Some children are fine wearing a mask, but others struggle,” the professors stated.

They cited a litany of concerns, everything from complicating vision issues for “those who have myopia” to skin problems, distractions from learning “and increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood” caused by “increasing airway resistance during exhalation.”

“Forcing (children) to make personal, health and development sacrifices for the sake of adults who refuse to get immunized is abusive,” said Drs. Marty Makary and H. Cody Meissner.

They said three more effective options to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections are “ventiliator distancing,” “dividing students into small groups known as pods” and “mandatory vaccinations for all teachers and other adults.”

Makary is chief of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins while Meissner is the chief of Tufts’ Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

Issuing his latest public- health emergency decree since the pandemic began in March 2020, Pritzker said his order applies to all people in all buildings from preschool through high school, both public and private.

Among those supporting Pritzker’s mask mandate is Dr. Allison Bartlett, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist from the University of Chicago. She told the Chicago Tribune it is “absolutely the right thing to do to keep all of our children safe.”

The state health agency reported Monday that 51 percent of the state’s population of over 12 million people has been fully vaccinated, including

75 percent of those over 65.

It said Champaign County

has a full vaccination rate of

49 percent, with Vermilion

at 32.7 percent, McLean at

49.3 percent, Douglas at 36 percent and Piatt at 43.9 percent.

Older people remain most vulnerable to the infection, particularly those with pre-

existing conditions. Cook

County reports that 92 percent of its 10,419 deaths between March 16 and Aug. 6 involved those with co-morbidities.

At the same time, 47 percent of statewide COVID-19 deaths up to May 14 were linked to retirement homes.

Hospitalizations also are on the increase.

Figures from Aug. 5 show that of the state’s 3,176 intensive-care-unit beds, 2,504 (79 percent) are in use, with 246 of those occupied by COVID-19 patients.

The state has 31,869 total beds, of which 24,078 are in use — 76 percent. Of those, 1,200 beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Health experts have repeatedly said the best option for controlling the virus is for everyone who can to get vaccinated. They acknowledge that those who have been vaccinated can still contract the virus but said they will most likely have less-serious symptoms or even be asymptomatic.

Jim Dey, a member of The

News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-393-8251.

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