CHICAGO (CN) — Anyone over the age of five who wants to enter a restaurant, bar or gym in Chicago will have to show proof they have been vaccinated against Covid-19, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city's Department of Public Health announced Tuesday.
The order, issued in response to the rapid spread of the omicron variant throughout the U.S., will go into effect on Jan. 3, 2022.
A representative from the office of City Council President Pro Tempore Brendan Reilly said Lightfoot did not inform or consult Reilly about the mandate before announcing it on Tuesday.
Kristen Cabanban, director of public affairs for the Chicago Department of Law, said that the City Council's approval of the mandate was not necessary, as the order didn't come from the Mayor's Office but from the office of Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. Arwady's office has the legal authority to make such orders during public health crises, per the city's municipal code.
"The Commissioner [of the CDPH] shall have the power to exercise the general police power of the City of Chicago to correct, by whatever means are necessary, any health hazard that presents an immediate risk to the life or health of one or more citizens of the City of Chicago," the city's municipal code states.
The omicron variant is that "immediate risk to life or health." Since Dec. 11, 2021, it has come to represent about 73% of all newly reported cases in the country.
"There's no denying that we are in a fifth wave of Covid-19," Lightfoot said at the Tuesday press conference in which she announced the new mandate. "This new wave is seemingly more deadly than the last, spreading faster and causing profound harm ... We are now averaging over 1,700 new Covid cases in Chicago residents every single day."
As of Tuesday, the CDPH reported that an average 1,776 new cases were being documented in the city per day, a 79% increase over just last week.
"On December 15th, we had more than 2,800 cases diagnosed in a single day," Dr. Arwady said Tuesday. "That's almost the most we've ever had and I expect within the next week to week and a half, we will see the highest number of Covid cases in this city that have ever been diagnosed."
The city's hospital system is also beginning to become strained, as is Illinois' at large. Almost 82% of all ICU beds in Chicago are currently occupied; a little over 19% of the occupants are Covid-19 patients. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, this works out to about 140 ICU beds being available in the whole city as of Tuesday. Statewide, only 416 beds were available.
"Mid-day, we actually had no ICU beds available at our hospital. Hopefully we'll have a discharge and have a bed available later in the day for our next patient that needs to be in intensive care," Dr. Susan Bleasdale, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago said Tuesday.
Bleasdale warned that should Covid-19 continue to spread through the city at its current rate, the city's health system was in danger of being overwhelmed. Lightfoot and Arwady also voiced that concern, saying drastic measures are now required to combat the prodigiously infectious omicron variant. Lightfoot and Arwady also both stressed that the greatest rates of infection and severe illness were present among the city's unvaccinated populations. Death and severe illness rates in the city remain universally lower by orders of magnitude compared to December 2020, before the rollout of vaccines, but even now the unvaccinated are up to seven times as likely to die and five times as likely to be hospitalized after contracting Covid-19.