(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker remains cautious about the reported omicron COVID-19 variant, but he’s not ready to go as far as New York has in canceling elective medical procedures free up hospital beds.
At an unrelated news conference in Chicago on Thursday, Pritzker said he’s still awaiting more information on the severity of omicron. But, he said regardless, hospital bed numbers are going up.
Asked if he’ll order hospitals to cancel elective medical procedures as New York recently did, he said that’s a situation peculiar to New York.
“When they implemented their requirement that healthcare workers get vaccinated, many healthcare workers in New York decided that they would no longer work,” Pritzker said. “And so they’ve had a reduction of staffed beds even before omicron came along.”
Pritzker said he talks with leaders in the medical community regularly about what they need, but he’s not moving to order hospitals to halt elective procedures as he did in 2020.
“I don’t have it on my list right now, but every day something new has come about with this disease,” Pritzker said.
State Rep. Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, filed House Bill 4239 this week he said would give employees the ability to opt-out of the COVID-19 vaccine for religious or other medical beliefs.
“If you mandate the vaccine, you’re going to lose healthcare workers,” Niemerg told The Center Square on Thursday. “If you make it optional, healthcare workers are going to stay in the field.”
In Springfield this week, several hospital workers organized a protest against the vaccine mandates.
Pritzker ordered the mandates for Illinois healthcare workers earlier this year. There are testing options and religious and medical exemptions per the governor’s mandate.
“SIU Medicine will continue the policy that was in place prior to the issuance of the CMS vaccine mandate for healthcare institutions,” a spokesperson for SIU Medical said in a statement. “This includes weekly testing for the unvaccinated. We are 93 percent vaccinated.”
Pritzker’s mandate isn’t the only mandate. President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates for medical workers at hospitals getting Medicaid and Medicare money are being challenged in the courts.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Louisiana Tuesday issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against Biden’s mandate on health care workers. His order blocked a regulation issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Nov. 4, which would have required more than 17 million full- and part-time employees, volunteers and contractors working at health care facilities funded by Medicare or Medicaid to lose their jobs if they didn’t get the vaccine by certain deadlines.
“Hospital Sisters Health System is keeping its newly established COVID-19 vaccine policy in place despite recent news that the federal vaccine mandate is being reviewed by the courts,” said a spokesperson for HSHS. “However, to allow our colleagues more time, the deadline to receive the doses to become fully vaccinated or have received approval of an exemption request has been pushed back from December 6, 2021, to January 31, 2022.”
“HSHS is not allowing colleagues to opt-out of the COVID-19 vaccine by doing weekly testing,” the spokesperson told The Center Square in an email follow-up. “However, colleagues with an approved exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate will be asked to test weekly in Illinois due to the state requirement.”
Niemerg said he hears regularly from nurses all across Illinois, and they’re seeking a legislative remedy from the mandates.
“They’ve been heroes during this pandemic yet we’re going to say ‘we’re going to force this vaccination upon you or you will be terminated,’” Niemerg said. “What my bill does is it allows folks to say the word ‘no’ on these vaccine mandates so that our nurses can continue to work and our healthcare facilities can continue to be staffed.”
Niemerg said there are similar exemptions for all other vaccines, except the COVID-19 vaccine. He hopes he can get bipartisan support for his bill when lawmakers return in early January.