Customers will have to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination at Chicago restaurants, gyms and more

omicron chicago
Kids and adults wait for their booster or second dose of COVID-19 vaccine at Northwest Community Church in Chicago, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. Nam Y. Huh / AP Photo
omicron chicago
Kids and adults wait for their booster or second dose of COVID-19 vaccine at Northwest Community Church in Chicago, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. Nam Y. Huh / AP Photo

Customers will have to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination at Chicago restaurants, gyms and more

People aged 5 years or older will soon be required to show proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to use a gym, dine or drink inside, or go to an entertainment venue in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday.

The mitigations aimed at indoor businesses and their patrons come in a response to an “alarming rise” in COVID-19 cases across the country and in Chicago, Lightfoot said. The city is averaging nearly 1,800 cases per day, up 79% from just a week ago. Average daily hospitalizations and deaths are rising as well – up 12% and 51%, respectively, over the last week.

“We need to strap back on the armor and do what we know to save people’s lives and keep people healthy,” Lightfoot said at a press conference announcing the new measures.

Cases, deaths and hospitalizations are the worst they have been since January 2021, before vaccines were widely available, officials said Tuesday. Chicago’s top public health official, Dr. Allison Arwady, predicted the city would break it’s single-day new case record in the next week to ten days.

The requirement goes into effect Jan. 3. In addition to proof of vaccination, people 16 and older will need to provide an I.D. that matches their vaccination record. It applies to patrons at indoor establishments where food and drink are served, including bars, restaurants, cafes and even banquet halls and ballrooms that host weddings or other large gatherings.

The mandate does not apply to employees of those businesses, though unvaccinated employees will be required to show a proof of a negative COVID test on a weekly basis.

The mandate does not apply to houses of worship, grocery stores, the city’s airports or food establishments that provide charitable services, like soup kitchens.

Chicago lags significantly behind cities like New York in requiring proof of vaccination for indoor activities. A similar requirement – that patrons and employees of indoor restaurants, gyms, and performance venues have at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine – has been in place in New York City since August.

About 90% of adult New Yorkers have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 shot, compared to about 80% in Chicago.

Chicago’s new order, in part, is meant to push unvaccinated Chicagoans to get a shot, with Lightfoot saying it’s “inconvenient by design.”

“To put it simply, if you have been living without having a vaccination, it’s time for a change,” she said.

The fact that Chicago’s new mandates will not go into effect until after the New Year already has drawn the ire of critics who say the city should have implemented the mitigations sooner.

“103 days ago, I led members of the Chicago City Council’s Health and Human Relations Committee in calling on [the health department] to institute proof of vaccination for indoor activities,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward, said in a Tweet.

In September, Ramirez-Rosa and seven other aldermen wrote a letter to the health department and the mayor citing the “uncontrolled community transmission of the Delta variant” and colder weather as reasons to implement a COVID-19 proof-of-vaccination requirement.

That month, the city saw around 300 to 500 cases on average each per day.

“It’s disappointing it’s taken so long for Chicago to implement this reasonable policy,” Ramirez-Rosa tweeted Tuesday. “Had this policy been in place, it could have helped contain Chicago’s Christmas surge. But better late than never. With omicron tearing through Chicago, this policy couldn’t come soon enough.”

Officials say the order will remain in effect until Chicago is “through this Omicron-driven surge and the risk of overwhelming hospital capacity has passed.”

“With Omicron, I do expect to see many more COVID reinfections and breakthrough cases, but luckily the vaccines continue to protect very well against severe illness, hospitalization, and death — and even more so when people have also had a booster shot,” Arwady said. “I remain most worried about the hundreds of

thousands of Chicagoans who still have not received a single dose of COVID vaccine nor

recovered from COVID infection.”

Officials said the large majority of Chicago’s COVID hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated. Lightfoot said Tuesday that more than 70% of the people in intensive care beds in hospitals and 75% of those who are dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

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