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Proof of vaccination will be required to enter most Chicago bars, restaurants in 2022

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday that beginning in January, would-be patrons of Chicago bars, restaurants and gyms will have to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination to get in the door.

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.


Forcing patrons to show proof of vaccination upon entering a public space is a radical step, Lightfoot admitted, but one necessary as gentler attempts to encourage residents' vaccination had not produced results quickly enough. Currently about 64% of the city's population is fully vaccinated.

"As I've said throughout the pandemic, we will leave no options off the table when it comes to protecting the safety and well-being of our residents," Lightfoot said.

Under the new vaccine mandate, any indoor dining or fitness venue, along with any "indoor entertainment and recreation venues where food or beverages are served" such as movie theaters and concert halls, must require their patrons to show proof of vaccination before being allowed in the door. These venues will also have to hang signage inside and on all their public entrances, alerting would-be patrons of the vaccination requirement. Employers will be required to ensure that employees are either fully vaccinated or that they provide a weekly negative Covid-19 test result. The city's indoor mask mandate for all people, regardless of vaccination status, will remain in place.

The new mandate will be enforced by the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. Department Commissioner Ken Meyer explained that the department will send investigative teams called "business compliance investigators" throughout the city to ensure that all the effected venues are following mandate protocols. These teams will first give non-disciplinary 24-hour "notices-to-correct" to businesses that make minor infractions against the mandate, Meyer said, such as not having their signage properly displayed. But for more serious infractions, or for those infractions that persist after a 24-hour notice, the offending businesses could face steep fines.

"We can write a citation for each of those things we find that they're not in compliance with, and that can be a range of $2,000 up to $10,000," Meyer said.

Meyer explained that places of worship, schools and daycares, grocery stores and charitable food services such as soup kitchens are all exempt from the mandate and will not require proof of vaccination to enter. Likewise, those entering a venue for less than ten minutes to conduct quick business or go to the bathroom will not have to provide proof of vaccination. Proof of approved medical and religious exemptions for vaccination will also be made available; however, exempt individuals must prove that they have received a negative Covid-19 test result in the 72 hours prior to entering an establishment.

The announcement of the new mandate was met with some criticism. Conservative reporter Amy Jacobson claimed that New York City, despite having a similar vaccine mandate in place since August, currently had similar Covid-19 case numbers to Chicago.

While this is not entirely correct — New York City's proportion of infected individuals and its Covid-19 test positivity rate are both lower than Chicago's as of Tuesday — it is true that New York City is currently seeing a rapid increase in cases. Given this, Jacobson asked during the press conference why Chicago should follow New York's lead.

Lightfoot shot back that the omicron variant was an unforeseen development that would have made Covid-19 numbers rise regardless of preparation, and that the vaccine mandate remained the best policy for Chicago. She also alluded that the city make take further, even more drastic steps to combat the pandemic if they became necessary.

"When New York City implemented [their vaccine mandate], nobody knew anything about omicron ... We're following the strategy that we believe is best suited to protect our residents and if we need to do more we will do more, but we're taking it step by step," Lightfoot said

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