Chicago to Require Proof of Vaccination in Bars, Restaurants and Gyms

Add “bring a vax card” to the list of popular 2022 New Year’s resolutions for Chicagoans.

Going inside a Chicago bar, restaurant, music venue or gym will require proof of vaccination come Jan. 3. Same goes for events like weddings or conventions held at banquet halls or ballrooms.

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“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 Jan. 3,” Lightfoot said. “This health order may pose an inconvenience to the unvaccinated, and in fact, it’s inconvenient by design.”

The order applies to children because vaccinations among 5- to 11-year-olds are particularly lagging, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said at a City Hall press conference Tuesday announcing the requirement.

It comes as COVID-19 cases have increased to a positivity rate of 7.3% – past the point of rapid spread, due to the omicron variant.

“Our concern is that we have a delta surge now with this omicron surge on top of it. Test positivity [is] … the highest it’s been in a year,” Arwady said. “That is a big jump just since last week. One week ago, we were at 4.1%. A week ago, we had 80% fewer cases. A lot has happened just in the last week.”

Per the new order, anyone age 5 or older must show a card, photocopy, or digital photo showing they’re fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Those 16 and above must also show a corresponding ID.

There are exceptions.

The order only applies to indoor venues. The city is not requiring proof of vaccination for most temporary outdoor structures, like those that popped up when indoor dining was banned.

And travelers can still fly in and out of Chicago without needing to show a vaccination card, and professional athletes and artists and their supporting crew are still able to play or perform whether they’re vaccinated or not.

Schools, grocery stores and houses of worship are not covered by the requirement, nor are recreation centers in office or condo buildings that can only be used by tenants and residents. Students are also able to participate in out-of-school school activities regardless of vaccination status.

Individuals who have received a medical or religious dispensation are exempt if they show proof, as well as a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours. Stopping in to a place – to use the bathroom, to place a carryout order, or a delivery worker picking up an order – isn’t required to show proof of vaccination, as long as the visit’s kept to 10 minutes or less.

“So if you’re going into that coffee shop to pick up and go, you don’t need to show proof. But if you’re going to linger, you’re going to eat that muffin, you’re going to sit down with your laptop, you’ve got to show proof of vaccination,” Lightfoot said.

Many music venues, including Beat Kitchen and Subterranean, have already voluntarily required patrons to show they’re vaccinated.

Owner Robert Gomez said concert venues were the first to shut down and the last to reopen, and he’s trying to avoid that happening again.

He said most people appreciate being asked, though those who don’t have proof of vaccination or who are unaware of the requirement, can be argumentative.

“It’s a little rough. People drive in – you know, you’re coming to a show from Indiana and you didn’t know and it’s frustrating because now you have to drive back. And I understand that,” Gomez said. “But we explain we’re doing our best, we’re just trying to keep it safe. This is why it’s great that the city is making this mandate because it takes it off of us, and we can simply say: This is a Chicago law. This is now the new regulation.”

But some business owners are frustrated an already strained food and dining industry is being asked to take on more, particularly with worker shortages.

While Lighfoot during Tuesday’s press conference said that employees – not patrons – who are unvaccinated will have the option to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, there is nothing explicitly in the order that gives workers that choice.

Lightfoot’s mandate covers establishments in the city proper, though the Cook County Department of Public Health – which has jurisdiction over suburban Cook County – in a statement said its leaders are exploring additional mitigations.

Chicago is going by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of fully vaccinated so patrons do not need to have a received a booster shot to gain entry to a venue.

However, CDC leadership has indicated it may redefine fully vaccinated to include a booster.

“Get a booster now if you want to be able to keep enjoying, without that chance of having to go a few weeks without being able to go to restaurants,” Arwady said.

State and city orders require masks in all indoor public places, unless someone is actively eating or drinking. The mask mandate remains in effect.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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