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Unvaccinated City Of Chicago Employees Will Face COVID-19 Testing Requirement

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- City employees who don't meet the mayor's Oct. 15 deadline to get fully vaccinated will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing, the city's top doctor said Thursday, although it's unclear how often they'll have to get tested, or if they'll face any further repercussions if they remain unvaccinated.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said all city employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15, meaning they must get their last dose of the vaccine by Friday, as it takes two weeks for the vaccine to fully kick in.

At a City Hall press conference on Thursday, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city is still negotiating with the various labor unions representing city employees on the details of the vaccine mandate, but she said the city is sticking to the Oct. 15 deadline.

Employees who miss the deadline will face testing requirements, according to Arwady, although she did not provide details on how often they will get tested, or how long the city will allow them to simply get tested for the virus, rather than complying with the vaccine mandate.

"We'll have more to share about how long that option may last as negotiations continue," she said.

Lightfoot's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the details of the testing requirements for unvaccinated city workers, or what other consequences unvaccinated employees might face.

Arwady said she won't be able to share information on how many city employees are already vaccinated until the city's deadline. City officials requested that employees begin providing their vaccination records last week, according to Arwady.

"As we start to see people putting in their vaccination records, complying with that, we will have a better sense of what those numbers are," she said.

Arwady said only a "miniscule" number of employees at the Department of Public Health aren't yet fully vaccinated, and those workers are in the process of completing their vaccinations.

"Broadly, all city of Chicago employees, if you've been vaccinated, and you haven't yet turned in your card, or updated your data through the human resources portal, do that, because that's the largest group, actually; people who have done it, but haven't actually had a chance to submit it," she said. "And if you haven't been vaccinated, please do it now. It just is going to save everybody a lot of hassle, and our goal of course is just to keep the workplace safe. It's nothing more than that. It's to keep you safe, it's to keep the workplace safe, it's to keep the city of Chicago residents that we all serve as city of Chicago employees safe. So I have no more goal than that. We know this is the most important thing for workplace safety. More than testing, more than distancing, it's vaccination."

City employees may apply for exemptions from the vaccine mandate for religious or medical reasons, and those will be reviewed by the city for approval.

"But without an appropriate medical or religious exemption, you need to get vaccinated," Arwady said.

The city has yet to announce any agreements with labor unions on the vaccine mandate, and the Fraternal Order of Police and other unions representing members of the Chicago Police Department have said they will fight any effort to require police officers to get vaccinated.

The Chicago Federation of Labor, an coalition of most of the city's labor unions, has said a vaccine requirement risks only hardening opposition to the vaccine among employees who have yet to get their shot, and has called on the city to include a testing option in its vaccination policy.

Meantime, six aldermen have pushed back on the mayor's vaccine mandate for city employees, calling the requirement "an infringement on their personal freedoms."

"We are strongly opposed to this mandate and are urging you to reconsider your executive order," said the letter, signed by Alds. Derrick Curtis (18th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Felix Cardona (31st), Nicholas Sposato (38th), Anthony Napolitano (41st), and James Gardiner (45th) signed the letter.

Sposato, one of only a few aldermen to say they have not been vaccinated, told Block Club Chicago he is not comfortable getting vaccinated yet, because of how potential side effects might impact his multiple sclerosis, saying a high fever for him could be fatal.

Aldermen are not subject to the mayor's vaccine mandate, as they are separately elected officials who do not report to Lightfoot.

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