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Chicago To Require Customers Show Proof Of Vaccination At Restaurants, Bars, Gyms, Entertainment Venues

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago restaurants, bars, gyms, entertainment venues that serve food or drinks will have to begin checking customers' vaccination status in the new year, in the city's latest effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, and other city leaders announced the new virus mitigations on Tuesday at City Hall.

"We didn't want to get to this point, but given the situation that we find ourselves in, we simply have no choice," Lightfoot said. "I know that this is frustrating, and it's exhausting, but I'm going to tell you what; we all have to strap back on the armor. We've all got to do what is necessary to protect ourselves, our families, our livelihoods, our city. The last thing in the world that I want to do is stand before you at a podium like this and announce that we're shutting our city back down."

Restaurants, bars, gyms, and entertainment venues that serve food or drinks will be required to have customers age 5 and up show proof they've been fully vaccinated, effective Jan. 3, 2022. Customers will have to provide a valid photo ID if they're at least 16 years old, as well as their vaccination card or a photocopy; or else a digital record, or printed record of their vaccination status.

"To put it simply, if you have been living without having a vaccination, it's time for a change. If you wish to live life as normally as possible, with the ease to do the things that you love, you must be vaccinated in the city of Chicago starting January 3rd," Lightfoot said.  "This health order may pose an inconvenience to the unvaccinated, and in fact it's inconvenient by design. We're entering into our third year of life under this pandemic, with deadlier and deadlier variants continuing to rise. Although we know that masking up, social distancing, and vaccinations work to stem the spread and the severity of COVID-19 infections, this is what we have to do to keep our health system from becoming overwhelmed by this new wave."

People who have been granted a religious or medical exemption from vaccination by their employer will be exempt, but must show proof of the exemption, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the past 72 hours.

Also exempt are:

  • Customers who are only entering a business for 10 minutes or less to pick up an order.
  • Nonresident performing artists who do not regularly perform or render services in a covered location, or a nonresident individual accompanying such a performing artist, while the performing artist or individual is in a covered location for the purposes of such artist's performance;
  • Nonresident professional athletes or a nonresident individuals accompanying such professional athletes, who enter a covered location as part of their regular employment for purposes of the professional athlete/sports team competition;
  • Anyone under age 18 who enters a covered location to participate in an activity organized by a school or after-school program offered by any pre-kindergarten through grade twelve public or non-public school; and
  • Individuals who enter for the purposes of voting in a municipal, state, or federal election; or, pursuant to law, assisting or accompanying a voter or observing such election.

Unvaccinated employees can test out of the vaccination requirement, according to the mayor. Those employees must continue to wear masks when interacting with customers, and provide proof of a weekly negative COVID-19 test.

Churches, schools, grocery stores, office buildings, and residential buildings also are exempt from the proof of vaccination mandate, according to the mayor. However, dining sections inside grocery stores are not exempt.

The statewide mask mandate remains in place for indoor public settings.

City officials said businesses will be required to post signs regarding the proof of vaccination requirement. Lightfoot said city inspectors will be checking on businesses to make sure they comply with the new mandate, and will issue warnings when necessary. Repeat violations carry the risk of fines, or even closure orders from the city. Fines can range from $2,000 to $10,000 for violations of the city's health orders.

"I don't want to have to go there, and I think we should be way past that point where we see people that are not complying, and trying to put their profits over the health and safety of their employees. But if we see that, then we're going to bring the hammer down, no question," Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot said the city is waiting until Jan. 3 to begin enforcing the requirement to give businesses time to post the necessary signs and come up with plans for checking customers' vaccination status.

The mayor said the new rules will stay in effect until the current wave of the pandemic is over.

Other major cities implemented similar proof of vaccination mandates weeks, or in some cases, months ago. For example, New York and San Francisco have required customers to show proof of vaccination at restaurants, bars, and gyms since August. Los Angeles began a similar mandate in November.

But Lightfoot has resisted such a mandate in Chicago for months. In September, a group of eight aldermen who sit on the City Council Health Committee asked Arwady to to require people to show proof of vaccination to enter public indoor settings like restaurants, bars, theaters, and gyms.

But Lightfoot dismissed their letter, asking Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who sent the letter to the mayor, "is there a reason this missive is coming from you and not from the Chair of the Committee? I am just seeking clarity as to whether this issue has been discussed through the Health Committee itself.  Please advise."

The new mitigations in Chicago come as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in in the city, and across the state, and as the Omicron variant has become the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S.

"There's no denying that we are in a fifth wave of COVID-19," Lightfoot said. "To be clear, I have not been this concerned about COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic in 2020."

Chicago is averaging 1,776 new cases per day over the past seven days, up 79% in the past week. Daily hospitalizations in Chicago have climbed 12% over the past week, while deaths have gone up 51%.

The city's test positivity rate is up to 7.3%, up more than 3 points from one week ago, when the test positivity rate was 4.1%, and the highest point it's been in a year, according to Arwady. Until now, the last time the city's positivity rate was above 5% was in April.

Arwady said there were more than 2,800 new cases reported in Chicago on Dec. 15, almost the most ever in a single day. She expects the city will set a new daily case record in the next week or so.

"I expect we will see a little bit of a dip around Christmas, and then we will see a post-Christmas surge, just like we saw around Thanksgiving,"

Arwady said the Omicron variant is much more contagious than the Delta variant, which itself is more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19. With cases rising rapidly again in the city, she said it's likely every Chicagoan knows someone who currently has COVID-19.

"We are in the middle of the biggest COVID surge that we have seen since vaccines were available," she said.

Arwady said the Omicron variant is clearly responsible for a significant spike in cases in Chicago over the past week. As recently as Dec. 6, Omicron cases made up less than 1% of all new COVID-19 cases in Chicago, but now accounts for more than 73% of new cases.

And while the available vaccines are less effective at preventing infection from the Omicron variant than other strains of COVID-19, Arwady said available vaccines still provide significant protection against severe illness or death from the virus.

Arwady said, while COVID-19 hospitalizations are not as high as they were during the first two surges of the pandemic, they are still higher than they were before vaccines were readily available.

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