CHICAGO — Diners looking to enjoy their favorite Chicago restaurants will likely have to provide proof of vaccination at local eateries and other city businesses as new confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to surge.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced new COVID-19 requirements for indoor businesses on Tuesday after cases of the coronavirus have pushed to more than 1,700 per day lately. The daily caseload was around 300 only a few weeks ago, which has prompted Lightfoot and local health officials to consider new requirements in response to the surge.
The new requirements will go into effect Jan. 3, Lightfoot said, and the order will remain in place until the city deems that the current surge is over. Lightfoot said Tuesday that churches and schools are exempt as are businesses where patrols stay for less than 10 minutes.
“For the vaccinated, you are free to go your business,” Lightfoot said at a news conference. “But you need to have proof.”
Lightfoot said that patrons will not have the option of showing proof of a negative test and said that the biggest risk facing the city is those who choose not to be vaccinated. Lightfoot said Tuesday that the last thing she wants to do is announce that the city is shutting down, but said that requires more people to get vaccinated.
Chicago’s health director said Tuesday that the city’s positivity rate is at 7.4 percent, which is the highest the city has seen in more than a year. Cases have risen by 80 percent in the past week and officials expect to see a post-Christmas surge after daily rates rose to as high as 2,800 new cases.
Lightfoot said at a news conference said that the city is in the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and that the city is now averaging 1,700 new confirmed cases per day. Hospitalizations and deaths are at levels officials have not seen for several months, which makes the new requirements necessary.
Lightfoot said in an appearance on MSNBC Monday night that “the time is now to act, and we will,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Other cities, including New York City, have required patrons to provide proof of vaccination at local restaurants, sporting events and Broadway shows. However, Chicago has not yet required such proof while new cases of COVID-19, including those associated with the omicron variant, have steadily increased new cases.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Tuesday that the new policy would apply to restaurants, gyms and other businesses where patrons spend more than 10 minutes unmasked. Rob Karr, the president of the Illinois Retail Association, said that patrons stopping into a business to pick up food or coffee or other items would not have to provide proof of vaccination, but in other instances, patrons would need to show proof of vaccination and a valid driver’s license.
“It’s a pretty measured approach considering (the surge in cases),” Karr said, according to the Sun-Times.
Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia told the newspaper that he is urging Lightfoot to wait until Jan. 3 and to make restaurant employees exempt from the vaccination requirement to avoid making staff shortages at local restaurants worse than they have been during the pandemic.
The proof of vaccination for diners is a better option, Toia said, than limiting capacity as was the case earlier in the pandemic when many restaurants were forced to close because of the loss in business associated with COVID-19 requirements.