Governor Pritzker Signs Two Recent Executive Orders Regarding Masks in Schools

UPDATED June 3, 2021

On May 28, 2021, Governor Pritzker issued Executive Order 2021-11 (COVID-19 Executive Order No. 80) which extends and clarifies the previous Executive Order 2021-20, signed on May 17, 2021. Our previous guidance on the May 17, 2021, Executive Order can be found below this update.

Among other things, the new Executive Order amends and re-issues Executive Order 2020-47, which allowed for Pre-K – 12 schools to reopen for in-person instruction and required compliance with IDPH and ISBE guidance. The new Executive Order extends and modifies those requirements until June 26, 2021 and through Phase 5, at least until the COVID-19 vaccine is available to all children aged two years and older. Most notably, the Executive Order provides:

  • Schools must comply with social distancing requirements (three feet for students and fully vaccinated adults; six feet for unvaccinated adults) “to the greatest extent possible.” Capacity limitations for school spaces are no longer a fixed number but instead are based on the ability of the space to accommodate the social distancing standards above.
  • Schools may discontinue the use of temperature checks and symptom screening, but must still require individuals to self-certify that they are free of COVID-19 symptoms before entering school buildings.
  • Schools must continue to encourage appropriate hygienic practices, including hand washing or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • High-touch surfaces in schools must be cleaned and disinfected at least once per day, or more often as necessary, according to CDC guidelines.
  • Face masks still are required in schools. However, informal guidance from the IDPH indicates that school offices spaces where no students are present would be governed by the ordinary standard for office spaces, instead of schools—i.e., masks would be required only for employees who are not fully vaccinated and who are not able to maintain a minimum six-foot social distance at all times.


On May 17, 2021, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed Executive Order 2021-10 (COVID-19 Executive Order No. 79) with the purpose of providing guidance regarding the Bridge Phase Order and aligning state public health requirements with the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for fully vaccinated individuals. Also on May 17, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) repealed its Public Health COVID-19 Emergency Rules (77 Ill. Adm. Code 690.50), noting that the Governor’s Executive Order superseded its Emergency Rule. 

With respect to masks or face coverings, the Executive Order provides that: 
  • Any individual who is not fully vaccinated and who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face covering (a mask or cloth face covering) shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a face covering when in a public place and unable to maintain a six-foot social distance. This requirement applies whether in an indoor space, such as a store, or in a public outdoor space where maintaining a six-foot social distance is not always possible.
  • All individuals, including those who are fully vaccinated, shall be required to wear a face covering consistent with CDC guidance, including (1) on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation and in transportation hubs such as airports and train and bus stations; (2) in congregate facilities such as correctional facilities and homeless shelters; and (3) in healthcare settings.
  • Individuals in schools, day care settings, and educational institutions should continue to follow separate guidance issued by the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Please note the Executive Order explicitly states that schools should continue following IDPH/ISBE guidance. Additionally, the Executive Order is clear that the intention of the order is to “safely and conscientiously, and in a manner consistent with CDC guidance, expand activities that were limited during the prior mitigation Phases of the State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” and notes specifically that the CDC advises that schools continue to use the COVID-19 prevention strategies outlined in the CDC’s Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention for at least the remainder of the 2020-2021 academic school year. This CDC document provides for the universal use of masks or face coverings in K-12 schools.
Moreover, in a May 17, 2021 press release, IDPH stated that: “[i]n line with CDC guidance, the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health require masks in schools.” Additionally, informal communications from IDPH continue to reflect the agency’s position that masks or face coverings will be required in schools until further guidance is issued. 
Due to the repeal of IDPH’s Public Health COVID-19 Emergency Rules, we will continue to closely monitor this issue for developments in IDPH and/or ISBE rules or guidance and will continue to consult with state and local agencies as we navigate this rapidly evolving issue. Schools should consult with their legal counsel regarding these issues.