CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot is expected to announce Tuesday that businesses will soon have to start checking patrons’ COVID-19 vaccination status.
Lightfoot said last week an announcement was coming soon on mitigation measures as the city faces another wave of COVID-19 cases. Now, she’s said she’ll provide a pandemic update during a news conference at 1:30 p.m.
Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner, previously said officials were looking at requiring businesses to check patrons’ vaccination status. She said officials were more interested in mitigations like that than in mass closures like were used at the start of the pandemic.
Lightfoot is expected to say businesses where patrons participate in indoor, leisure activities — including restaurants, bars and gyms — will have to check if people are fully vaccinated starting in 2022, WTTW’s Paris Schutz said in a tweet. There may also be a negative testing requirement that could be used for workers or patrons who are not fully vaccinated, Schutz said.
Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said the group is still waiting to learn final details of the plans, but its members have been in contact with City Hall. Toia and other leaders of the group pushed for “as business-friendly mitigations as they could get” since the industry is still in the midsts of a “fragile recovery,” he said.
“Capacity limits would kill the the industry,” but vaccine passports would keep businesses in operation, Toia said.
What the industry really needs is for the federal government to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which provides funding to restaurants in distress during the pandemic, Toia said.
For months, some businesses have voluntarily checked patrons’ vaccination status. Other cities have required such measures. And last week, Cook County officials urged but did not require all suburban businesses to take that step.
Now, some businesses — especially bars, restaurants and music venues — are voluntarily shutting down as COVID-19 exposures and cases explode among staff members. Theater productions and the NHL are also taking a pause as cases spike.
But state and city officials have been slow to roll out new safety mitigations in response to the latest surge of COVID-19. No new safety requirements have been announced as cases, hospitalizations and deaths have climbed upward for weeks, hitting their highest points in months.
And the Omicron variant, which is thought to be more contagious, was found in Chicago and its suburbs earlier this month. Officials have said they’re worried the variant will further drive up cases, which would also lead to bigger spikes in hospitalizations and deaths.
That variant — first found in the United States on Dec. 1 — already makes up 73 percent of new cases nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday. Arwady said last week the bulk of Chicago’s cases are still the Delta variant, but it was not clear where the city stood on that issue as of Tuesday morning.
Researchers are still determining how effective vaccines are against the Omicron variant and if it is more or less severe than prior versions of the virus. Officials, including Arwady, have said they do expect currently available vaccines offer at least some protection from serious illness and death.
In the past week, daily confirmed cases are up 79 percent in Chicago, with an average of 1,776 being reported per day. The city’s positivity rate, which measures how many people are testing positive for the virus, has climbed to 7.3 percent; a week ago, it was at 4.1 percent.
The city is now seeing an average of 10 residents dying per day from COVID-19. The city’s COVID-19 deaths are at their highest point in months.
Everyone 5 and older is eligible to get vaccinated in Chicago.
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.
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