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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

‘Traumatized And Exhausted’ Bar And Restaurant Owners Impose Vaccine Requirements, Mask Mandates As Delta Variant Hits City

New York City is requiring all restaurants, bars and gyms to check for proof of vaccination. But there are no plans for a similar mandate in Chicago.

Vaccination cards are checked with IDs at the front doors of Sidetrack on Saturday, May 29, 2021.
Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
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LOGAN SQUARE — Earlier this summer, the owners of Hopewell Brewing in Logan Square stopped requiring masks for the first time since the pandemic started. It was a huge relief for Hopewell’s owners, who had battled to keep the brewery open during restrictions and shutdowns.

But that respite was short-lived. With city officials urging all Chicagoans to wear masks indoors as coronavirus surges again, Hopewell is among a growing number of bars and restaurants reinstating masks and requiring proof of vaccination to get inside.

Local officials blame the latest wave on the more contagious Delta variant, not enough people getting vaccinated and people letting down their guard.

For now, local leaders have no plans to require businesses to have customers wear masks or check if patrons are vaccinated. Without that, or some kind of directive from the city or the federal government, some say outbreaks could happen and bars and restaurants — businesses that operate on razor-thin margins as it is — will suffer. Again.

“We’ve been here before, which is the really tough part of this. We’ve been here before where there’s recommendations made, but what’s the accountability?” said Hopewell co-owner Samantha Lee. “The majority of our guests understand; people watch the news, so they understand what’s going on. But we don’t have the emotional energy to police the masks in the same way.”

People in the service industry are anxious and scared, some said. Owners worry their businesses won’t survive if patrons stop coming or if there is another citywide shutdown, and they’re doubtful the federal government will approve more relief.

“Everyone’s terrified. I’m terrified,” said Coleman Brice, owner of Cole’s Bar in Logan Square. “I don’t know what it will mean for the employees. I don’t know what it will mean for the industry. I don’t think any more help is coming, so it’s a very scary place to be.”

Like Lee, Brice brought back mask requirements at Cole’s last week. He and his staff are checking people’s proof of vaccination at the door, a practice they rolled out about two months ago.

Brice said they found out on Friday a vaccinated customer had tested positive for COVID-19, which prompted them to briefly shut down the bar so everyone on staff could get tested. He said employees tested negative and the customer is “totally OK.”

Vaccinated people can contract and transmit the virus, but it is rare. That means the Delta variant is having the largest effect on unvaccinated people, city officials have said. Checking vaccination cards reduces the chances of an outbreak, Brice said.

“It will really help if more businesses require vaccinations. I think it will be the incentive that people need to tamp down this spread,” Brice said.

More Chicago bar and restaurant owners are adopting the same protections.

The owners of Spinning J Bakery and Soda Fountain in Humboldt Park shut down their dining room for indoor service Friday and went back to only offering pickup. The owners made the announcement on Instagram and didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

“With so many break-through cases being reported by friends and colleagues, it just doesn’t make sense to expose even our fully vaccinated staff unnecessarily,” the Spinning J team said on Instagam. “We’re a very small space and in close proximity to each other and you, plus we love being a place where kids are welcome, but those little ones are also not vaccinated right now.”

Also in Humboldt Park, the owners of Jeff & Jude’s, a deli at 1024 N. Western Ave., brought back a mask mandate on Friday after a vaccinated employee tested positive for COVID-19.

In Lakeview, craft beer spot Beermiscuous at 2812 N. Lincoln Ave. started checking vaccination cards at the door Tuesday. The owners of the bar never stopped requiring patrons to wear masks. Co-owner Virginia Thomas said they hope requiring vaccinations will provide customers and staff with an even greater level of protection.

Thomas said their business hasn’t fully rebounded from last year’s shutdown, and they’re doing whatever they can to “keep it moving and stay open” while ensuring customers and employees are safe.

“It’s terrifying,” Thomas said. “You can’t predict the future ever, and hospitality always has ups and downs and has unique things about it, good and bad. It’s been rough, especially lately with the science changing, and everyone’s exhausted, myself included. We’re all worn out, worn down, traumatized and exhausted.”

Hydrate Nightclub, 3458 N. Halsted St., and Berlin Nightclub, 954 W. Belmont Ave., also recently announced they are asking for proof of vaccination.

Metropolitan Brewing in Avondale is requiring proof of vaccination starting Thursday. People who aren’t vaccinated can order carryout, but they must wear a mask when picking up their orders.

“After all the hard work we’ve done to literally survive over the past 16 months, we’re not letting anyone f-ck it up for us,” the brewery tweeted.

No Vaccination Card Mandate Planned For Chicago

New York City is requiring all restaurants, bars and gyms to check for proof of vaccination starting Aug. 16, making it the first major city in the United States to do so. There are no plans for something similar in Chicago for now.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said while she’s been “really pleased” to see restaurants and bars strengthen restrictions on their own, the city is not currently working on a plan to require people to show proof of full vaccination when entering some businesses.

“Certainly we’re interested in this. We’ll be watching to see how this plays out. We don’t have a current plan to do something like this at the city level,” Arwady said at a news conference Tuesday.

Arwady said the city is working on a “tech piece” to help businesses who want to check people’s vaccination status. The health department is keeping a list of businesses requiring proof of vaccination and negative tests. Arwady said she’d look into making that list public.

Arwady and Mayor Lori Lightfoot previously said the city could bring restrictions it’s used in the past if the latest wave of Delta gets worse. In the past, the city’s tried to slow down cases by restricting capacity at businesses, requiring masks and imposing curfews on bars, among other things.

Arwady said she does expect this latest wave of COVID-19 to get worse, with more people hospitalized and dying from the virus as cases climb. She’s urged people to get vaccinated to be protected, since the vaccines used here do largely prevent serious illness and death.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.

Brice, owner of Cole’s Bar, said his bar can withstand another short shutdown, but it can’t survive a long-term drop in business, which he said could happen if local and federal officials don’t come up with a plan to help small businesses.

“I think we need to have some kind of playbook that says, ‘OK, if the numbers get above this, this is what we’re going to do to contain it for this amount of time,'” he said. “What we need is some way for us, as a society, to wrap our heads around: How do we assess the risk?”

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