Mandatory Vaccine Checks: Alderpeople Want Proof, Restaurants Don’t

Heading out to a bar, restaurant, skating rink, bowling alley or theater in Chicago? You may be asked to show proof that you’re vaccinated against COVID-19.

Proof of such status is not required, however, and a coalition of restaurateurs say it shouldn’t ever be. But a group of eight members of the City Council have a different view.

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In a Sept. 9 letter, Alds. Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th ward), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), Andre Vasquez (40th), Michelle Smith (43th), Matt Martin (47th) and Maria Hadden (49th) wrote public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady in support of Chicago requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination at public indoor settings, including restaurants, similar to requirements in cities like New York, San Francisco and New Orleans.

“We believe it is time for Chicago to do the same given (1.) the uncontrolled community transmission of the Delta variant (2.) the threat of new variants (3.) approaching colder weather that will drive Chicagoans to indoor activities and (4.) free and readily available FDA approved and emergency COVID-19 vaccines,” according to the letter.

In a statement earlier this month, the city’s joint information center was ambivalent on the topic.

“Our goal as a City is that Chicago remain both open and safe, and at this point we remain in good control of COVID compared to most of the rest of the country. We require masks for everyone age 2 and over in all indoor public settings and are in communication with the business community on other mitigation measures they can take to slow transmission and keep Chicagoans safe,” the statement reads. “We will continue to monitor locations around the country and the world that have put vaccine requirements for certain businesses in place, as well as the results of those requirements. Many businesses and settings in the Chicago area have already made the choice to require proof of vaccination and we strongly support them. We continue to monitor the data daily and will adapt public health guidance as appropriate, as we have throughout the pandemic.”

Mary Kay Tuzi of the Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern, a family owned establishment in Old Town known for its ribs, calls the notion of laying that duty on restaurants “mind-boggling.”

Tuzi said she is understaffed and therefore doesn’t have the people-power to take on that task, nor does she believe it would be appropriate for often young hosts to have to potentially battle with prickly patrons offended by being asked to show their COVID-19 vaccine status.

“So how they expect that we’re then going to have somebody who is going to be at the door checking for vaccination cards is beyond my comprehension. Unless the city wants to provide somebody to stand there and do that, ” Tuzi said. “It’s mind-boggling how the aldermen came up with this idea. Again, let’s put the burden on the restaurants when this is not something that we can handle; we’re not trained to handle it. Even if they train us, we still don’t have the staff to do it.”

People dine out in Chicago on June 1, 2021. (WTTW News)People dine out in Chicago on June 1, 2021. (WTTW News)

Roger Romanelli, head of the Fulton Market Association, said it’s the city’s responsibility to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates.

“Instead we’re seeing government spend a lot of time not focused on the vaccine. They renamed Lake Shore Drive and spent hours and hours on that, as opposed to focusing on vaccinations,” he said. “The failure is not of the restaurants to get people vaccinated, government officials need to step up.”

Romanelli said the mayor and alderpersons should work to have 90% of Chicagoans vaccinated by the end of October, and they could do so though targeting cash prizes in wards or community areas where rates are particularly low.

Chicago announced Thursday that the public health department had given 10,000 vaccines to Chicagoans through at-home visits. People who get shots through the City at Home program are eligible to receive $100 for completing a vaccine series.

As of Sunday, Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that 66% of those over age 12 are fully vaccinated.

Youth ages 5 to 11 may have that opportunity sooner than later.

Pfizer announced Monday their data shows a smaller dose works to provoke an immune response in that age group; efficacy testing is still underway for younger children.

American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Savio Lee Beers says she's excited about this as a first step; next is the Food and Drug Administration granting emergency use authorization.

Beers said while children don’t seem to experience the same risk level as adults for severe infection from the virus, “the prospect of vaccinations for kids is exciting.

“We’re incredibly grateful that children do not seem to be as at high risk for severe infection as older adults, however lower risk does not mean no risk. And we are seeing, particularly with the delta variant, we are seeing lots of children get quite ill and even hospitalized,” she said. “We also know that the vaccine that’s authorized is safe and effective and it’s a really important tool to keep our children safe and healthy.”

Beers says she’s the mother of teens who got the COVID-19 vaccine shot as soon as they could, and if she had younger children she would want them to get it as soon as there’s FDA clearance.

“Until our youngest children have access to a safe and effective vaccine that’s authorized for their age, it is really important to remember that one of the best ways we can protect them is for everyone around them who is old enough to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” she said. “And what that does is, it helps decrease the spread of COVID in our communities generally, which helps keep our littlest ones safe.”

Meanwhile, the vaccine is mandatory for certain employees.

Per an executive order issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, teachers, university employees and those who work at hospitals and other health care facilities had to have a first shot by Sunday, Sept 19. Those who refuse must undergo frequent testing.

At an unrelated event in Peoria on Monday, Pritzker was asked whether that requirement could prove problematic given shortages of teachers and nurses.

“Of course I’m concerned about people who will refuse to get vaccinated and refuse to get tested, and we don’t want to cause any shortages,” Pritzker said. “But we do want to keep everybody safe. We do have these alternatives available to people. But again, vaccination is the safest thing that people can do for themselves, for their communities, for their schools, as well as health care workers in their health care settings.”

Pritzker on Friday issued a new executive order, extending the statewide mandate for masks at indoor public settings through Oct. 16.

At the same time, Pritzker pushed back by more than a month the deadline, from Oct. 4 to Nov. 18, when state employees at state-run congregate settings like prisons and veterans homes, must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

Negotiations with unions over the requirement are ongoing.

But Pritzker on Monday announced his first deal with a union on vaccinations. A small group of 260 corrections and juvenile justice employees represented by VR-704 have until Oct. 14 to receive an initial vaccine dose, and a second by Nov. 18.

State employees who remain unvaccinated pose a significant risk to individuals in the Illinois’ congregate facilities. Therefore, if employees do not receive the vaccine or an exemption by the dates identified, progressive disciplinary measures will be implemented, which may ultimately lead to discharge,” a media release by the administration reads. “The agreement includes a process whereby employees can seek an exemption based on medical contraindications or sincerely-held religious beliefs.”

Pritzker’s office said in the deal with VR-704, state employees will receive an extra personal day as an enticement for them to get vaccinated.

Employees who are vaccinated and get COVID-19 or have to quarantine can take “COVID time,” which allows them to have paid time off without using regular benefits.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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