Some businesses trying to navigate new guidance loosening mask restrictions for fully vaccinated people are turning to tools long used by bars and music festivals to control entry.
In this case, the hand stamps and wristbands signal a customer’s vaccination card’s been checked, and their bare face shouldn’t raise eyebrows.
But not every business wants to vet customers’ vaccination status. For some, that means everyone keeps their masks on. Others are relying on the honor system, though that means there’s little guarantee policies making masks optional for vaccinated people don’t simply turn into masks optional for all.
“Our position is to trust the responsibility of everybody to handle it properly,” said Gosia Pieniazek, owner of Ella’s BBQ in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
When Chicago loosened mask requirements earlier this month, it advised but did not require businesses to keep masking policies in place indoors if they couldn’t verify vaccination status. The city also advised businesses to post signs outlining their masking policy on their doors so people can choose whether or not to enter.
Park & Field, in Logan Square, lets customers know when they make a reservation that they need to bring their vaccination card if they want to go maskless, said owner Dan Nalezny. Security guards at the door will stamp customers’ hands if they show their card.
Nalezny likened it to checking someone’s ID before they order a drink.
“It takes an extra 30 seconds,” he said.
All Strength Training personal training gym in Uptown asks customers to show a vaccination card if they want to work out without a mask. The gym doesn’t keep copies of cards but makes a note in its computer system that the customer provided proof, owner Zach Trowbridge said.
Because the gym offers personal training and sees the same clients repeatedly, it was easier to regulate those who were vaccinated than it might be in a place with higher customer turnover, such as a retail store or a large gym with open classes, Trowbridge said.
“If we had more of an open access setup, I don’t think we would have lifted it just yet,” he said. “I think we would have waited until the state opens.”
Unvaccinated customers must still wear masks and undergo temperature checks, he said.
Edge Athlete Lounge, in the West Town area, asks people interested in working out without a mask to upload an image of their vaccine card online. At their next visit, they get a wristband notifying staff and other people working out that they passed a vaccination check, said co-owner Robyn LaLonde.
Going mask-optional for people who have been vaccinated without asking for proof and providing the visual signal felt like “too big a step,” LaLonde said.
“It leaves too much anxiety on the table,” she said. “It’s up to us as a health business to keep people safe, and part of that now is mentally, too.”
Other businesses aren’t asking for proof. Several large retailers that recently announced they no longer require vaccinated people to wear masks did not say whether they would ask for proof of vaccination. Mariano’s, CVS and Equinox are relying on the honor system, and Jewel-Osco said masks are “strongly encouraged” for unvaccinated customers.
Downers Grove-based Classic Cinemas CEO Chris Johnson said he looked to some of those companies when deciding to let vaccinated moviegoers skip masks without asking to see vaccination cards. The new policy takes effect Thursday.
“There’s no possibility of checking,” he said.
At Pure Salon in Arlington Heights, co-owner Dawn Wu said she felt it was “none of my business” to ask people for proof of vaccination before letting them visit without a mask. Her employees were comfortable letting fully vaccinated people go maskless, and most people announce their vaccination status anyway, Wu said.
“It happens the minute they walk in the door,” she said.
Other businesses were equally reluctant to demand proof of vaccination status but opted to keep asking everyone to mask up, including grocery stores Pete’s Fresh Market and HarvesTime Foods.
“It’s ludicrous to tell people we trust they’re going to tell the truth when they go to the store, and then expect me to tell customers I checked and they’re vaccinated,” said Chris Dallas, owner of HarvesTime Foods in Ravenswood.
Dallas said he’d like the city’s vaccination rate to be higher before he’d consider easing mask requirements.
Lincoln Square’s Timeless Toys, which still requires masks, wants families with kids who can’t yet get the vaccine to feel comfortable shopping, said owner Scott Friedland.
The store doesn’t have enough staff to have someone checking vaccine cards at the door, and he doesn’t want to risk penalties for failing to properly vet shoppers’ status.
“Until the city is willing to take some of the burden, or we’re able to get to the point where the number of unvaccinated people is negligible, it’s not worth it to me as a business owner to take that risk,” Friedland said.
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