Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will require restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues to check the vaccination status of all patrons 5 and older, the latest move taken by her administration to slow COVID-19 as the omicron variant of the virus sweeps across the country.
Workers at those businesses do not need to prove they are fully vaccinated, but must wear masks when dealing with customers and provide proof of a weekly negative COVID-19 test.
The new rules, which do not affect schools and day care facilities, go into effect Jan. 3. Only Chicago is affected.
“New steps must be taken to protect the health and well-being of our residents,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “This public health order requiring proof of vaccination to visit certain indoor public places is a necessary measure to ensure we can continue to enjoy our city’s many amenities as we enter the new year.”
Lightfoot’s rules affect restaurants, bars, fast food establishments, coffee shops, tasting rooms, cafeterias, food courts, dining areas of grocery stores, breweries, wineries, distilleries, banquet halls, and hotel ballrooms, the city said.
It also includes gyms, yoga, Pilates, cycling, Barre and dance studios, hotel gyms, fitness boot camps, and other facilities, the city said.
Movie theaters, music and concert venues, live performance venues, adult entertainment venues, commercial event and party venues, sports arenas, performing arts theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, card rooms are also included in the order, the city said.
Not included are churches, airports and office buildings.
Businesses will not have to check individuals for proof of vaccination if they’re entering to order and carry out food, deliver goods, or use the bathroom.
The new mandate also exempts some performing artists, professional athletes, individuals with religious exemptions who also have a negative COVID test, people who enter a location to participate in a school or after-school activity.
Other cities, like New York, have implemented similar vaccine mandates weeks or months ago but Lightfoot has resisted the idea. In September, for instance, she dismissed a proposal for such a mandate from Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and other City Council members.
Over the last few weeks, however, Lightfoot has said she has been in discussions with local business interests about potential new rules against the virus.
She appeared on MSNBC Monday evening and noted that while the city was recording 300 new cases a day three weeks ago, the figure more recently has spiked to more than 1,000 a day, necessitating new restrictions.
Lightfoot’s action comes as Chicago records an average of 1,776 new COVID-19 cases a day — the highest in about a year — and a 7.3% positivity rate, both up from last week. Hospitalizations are averaging 62 a day, up 12% from the prior week, while deaths are at 10 a day.
Nationwide, the extremely contagious omicron variant now makes up 73% of new COVID-19 cases, pushing out the delta coronavirus as the dominant variant in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Statewide, health officials on Tuesday reported 10,264 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, raising the average number of new daily cases to 10,590 over the past week. That’s up from 7,199 per day a week earlier and 4,057 a month ago.
As of Monday night, 4,008 coronavirus patients were in hospitals across Illinois, the most in a single day since Dec. 30, 2020. Over the past week, the state has averaged 3,829 COVID-19 patients per day, the highest level since early January.
Deaths from COVID-19 also are on the rise, with 63 more fatalities reported Tuesday, bringing the average number of daily deaths to 51 over the past week. That’s the highest level since early February. In all, Illinois has recorded 27,291 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among those who are not fully vaccinated.
As of Tuesday, nearly 68% of the state’s eligible population — those 5 and older — have been fully vaccinated, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Cook County officials on Tuesday also gave what the suburban public health department’s senior medical officer Dr. Kiran Joshi said was “grim news” on the COVID-19 front. He said case counts and positivity rates have skyrocketed in the past week with no signs of abating, and hospitalizations have reached a point not seen since a year ago.
“We believe that these increases are due to the omicron variant,” Joshi said. “So it’s with great regret that I say this is beginning to look like 2020 all over again.”
Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, the county’s chief medical examiner, said 12,479 residents in Chicago and suburban Cook County have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. The county is seeing the highest death date since mid-January, reaching the third cumulative week exceeding 100 deaths.
“We are alarmed,” Arunkumar said. “My team and I have spent multiple hours confirming COVID-19 infection deaths in people who did not think it would happen to them. They were parents, grandparents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors. They all left behind grieving families. To our residents, I have this message: Please get vaccinated. Get your boosters.”
Also on Tuesday, the city added five states and Puerto Rico to its optional travel advisory. Now, every state and territory except Guam, Louisiana, South Carolina and the Virgin Islands are on the list of states from where unvaccinated travelers must take extra precautions.
The most updated guidance from the city advised that unvaccinated people get tested one to three days before leaving for their trip. Upon return, they should get a COVID-19 test within three to five days as well as quarantine for seven days. If they choose not to get tested, they should quarantine for 10 days.
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