Getting a COVID-19 vaccine may be the ticket to experiencing the best of summer in Chicago this year.
“You want to be part of the fun? Get vaccinated.” That was the message Tuesday from the city’s public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, who teased a series of incentives the city plans to roll out over the next month.
Chicago’s plans were announced within hours of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing new guidance on mask wearing. The CDC said vaccinated people can stop wearing masks outdoors, unless they’re in a crowded setting.
Arwady said the city will adopt that guidance and revise some of the current restrictions in the coming days. There will still be masks required indoors and likely in certain places, such as restaurants and bars.
“If you are out in a restaurant, you can’t know whether everybody around you has been vaccinated,” Arwady said. “The expectation remains indoors that you would be wearing a mask and putting it on when servers are near you.”
Arwady also announced a $9.6 million vaccine outreach program and outlined several initiatives the city plans to try to get people who’ve not yet gotten a shot to take one. One initiative, dubbed “Vax and Relax,” will partner with barbershops and salons to give people free haircuts and nail treatments if they’ve been vaccinated, according to Arwady.
Another incentive underfoot that Arwady called “VaxPass” would give vaccinated people access to concerts, entertainment, and other free events.
“We’re not going to bribe Chicagoans to get vaccinated, but we are going to do everything we can to build the confidence, to build the convenience, and then to make this fun,” Arwady said.
“We are never going to require vaccination for all Chicago residents,” Arwady added. “That will never be a requirement, but I think, increasingly, where people are wanting to do things and lower their risk, vaccination is going to be your ticket to doing some of that.”
The COVID-19 vaccines being administered are still under emergency use authorization. None have been fully approved by federal authorities.
Because of this, no municipality, workplace, school, or other organization can mandate coronavirus vaccinations. However, many employers and universities have expressed plans to require inoculations, but can only legally do so once the federal government fully approves the COVID-19 vaccines, which could happen as soon as this summer.
The city’s incentive plans are coming at the same time as vaccine supply is more abundant and demand is slowing down.
This week, mass vaccination sites in Chicago and Cook County started taking walk-ins. Contact tracers are now being trained to do vaccine outreach. And the city announced a $9.6 million request for proposals to partner with community organizations to do vaccine outreach and education in six regions of the city.
Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.