Fully Vaccinated Chicagoans Are Now Encouraged — But Not Required — To Wear Masks

People sit on the bench in Chicago’s Navy Pier as others pass by
People sit on the bench in Chicago's Navy Pier as others pass by, Friday, May 14, 2021. After more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago health officials finally are easing the city's guidance for mask-wearing regarding fully vaccinated people. Shafkat Anowar / Associated Press
People sit on the bench in Chicago’s Navy Pier as others pass by
People sit on the bench in Chicago's Navy Pier as others pass by, Friday, May 14, 2021. After more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago health officials finally are easing the city's guidance for mask-wearing regarding fully vaccinated people. Shafkat Anowar / Associated Press

Fully Vaccinated Chicagoans Are Now Encouraged — But Not Required — To Wear Masks

Fully vaccinated Chicagoans are no longer required to wear masks in most indoor areas though public health officials are encouraging them to keep doing so, the city announced Tuesday.

Illinois officials announced similar guidance for the state Monday. Masks are still required on public transit, in health care facilities and in congregate settings such as nursing homes and schools. And businesses can continue to require masking indoors regardless of a patron’s vaccination status.

Regardless of the loosened COVID-19 rules, city officials on Tuesday advised Chicagoans and businesses to continue masking. Businesses are not required to verify whether patrons are fully vaccinated before letting them in without masks.

“Many businesses and settings may not have the capacity or desire to check people’s vaccination status. We also know many Chicagoans are not yet fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “Therefore, we continue to strongly advise, though not require, masking policies for all indoor settings in Chicago.”

The city’s new mask guidance goes into effect immediately. Arwady strongly urged businesses who do not have the capacity to check patrons’ vaccination status to continue requiring that people wear masks in their stores.

“Our advice is that settings that don’t want to check vaccine [status] would continue to have masks in indoor settings,” Arwady said.

State and city officials have been racing to update their guidance on mask-wearing since the CDC announced late last week that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks or socially distance in most situations. That federal guidance isn’t mandatory, however, so local health officials and businesses across the country have been scrambling to draft new policies.

Illinois and Chicago businesses are not required to verify a person’s vaccination status if they aren’t wearing a mask, though businesses can choose to do so. That has drawn criticism from doctors and experts, who worry the new guidance places too much of a burden on individual employees.

Even though businesses aren’t required to ask maskless customers for proof of vaccination, they are required to do so in order to take advantage of another city program.

The city of Chicago is allowing businesses to exempt people from COVID-19 capacity limits if those people fully vaccinated. But in order to let more people in the door, the city says business owners are responsible for checking and recording people’s vaccination status.

“[A] vaccination card, photo/photocopy of vaccination card, or other printout/photo/electronic proof of vaccine records with the patron’s name are some acceptable methods of demonstrating fully vaccinated status,” reads city guidance obtained by WBEZ. “Businesses should evaluate privacy concerns to implement a reliable method to manage proof of vaccinations.”

It’s unclear what penalties businesses might face for skirting the city’s rules regarding fully vaccinated patrons.

It’s also unclear whether businesses can turn away people who don’t show proof of vaccination. Neither the city nor state public health departments have answered WBEZ’s questions about that issue.

Mariah Woelfel covers city government at WBEZ. You can follow her at @MariahWoelfel.