Lightfoot negotiating mandatory vaccination and testing regimen for city employees

Earlier this week, New York City became the nation’s first major city to order mandatory vaccines and weekly testing for municipal employees. The state of California promptly followed suit. Chicago could be next.

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The COVID-19 mass vaccination site in the parking lot of the United Center in March.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday left little doubt that coronavirus vaccine and testing mandates for the city’s 33,000 employees are coming in response to a troubling spike in cases tied to the “Delta variant.”

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday hinted strongly that Chicago will follow New York City’s lead by requiring city employees to either show proof that they’ve been fully vaccinated or get tested weekly for the coronavirus.

Already, city employees must wear masks in “common areas” of City Hall and other city workplaces too tight to maintain social distance and wear masks full-time if they’re not vaccinated — not only for their own protection, but also to safeguard their colleagues.

Asked Thursday about the possibility of vaccine and testing mandates, Lightfoot said it’s “been on our radar screen for quite a long time — really going back into the spring.”

She left little doubt vaccine and testing mandates for the city’s 33,000 employees are coming in response to a troubling spike in coronavirus cases tied to the “Delta variant.”

“We’ve had more recent conversations about it. We’re starting the conversations with public unions that represent city workers and we’ll be making an announcement soon,” she said.

Lightfoot doesn’t “have a particular date” for the announcement because negotiations are ongoing. But she plans to announce the new policy “shortly.”

“We’re looking at what’s been done [around the country]. New York was probably the first big city to come out with a mandate there. It’s mandatory vaccines or weekly testing for those who are not vaccinated,” she said.

“The federal government … has or will soon be making a declaration about mandatory vaccine. So we’re looking at what’s happening in other circumstances and crafting a strategy that works for Chicago.”

Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter was asked about the status of those negotiations.

He issued a statement saying only that the federation is “currently reviewing our affiliates’ positions on workplace vaccinations. ... However, we encourage everyone to make the decision to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their co-workers and their families.”

The Chicago Federation of Labor has an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

Earlier this week, the mayor and city Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady sent mixed messages about the troubling rise in coronavirus cases.

Lightfoot said she wouldn’t hesitate to return to a mask mandate and other safety mitigations if the daily level of coronavirus cases in Chicago “consistently go over” 200.

Arwady said the she would sound the alarm and tighten the screws if the daily case level tops 400.

Both women expressed no second thoughts about green-lighting Thursday’s start of Lollapalooza, which Lightfoot proudly declared as the “largest music festival in the world” to be held since the pandemic.

Thursday, the mayor was asked about the discrepancy.

“The goalposts haven’t moved. Our metrics have been consistent … certainly over the last year-plus, but we’re concerned about this steady creep up,” she said.

Chicago’s daily rate of coronavirus cases stands at 190. That’s up 63% from 117 cases-a-day just one week ago. Lightfoot acknowledged the city is poised to blow past her benchmark of “200-plus-cases-a-day.”

But she said “other important metrics” the city follows “do give us some reason for optimism.”

“That is, we’re not seeing a huge surge in hospitalizations. That’s important. Or ICU beds or people on ventilators. However, the people who are getting sick with the Delta variant — 97-plus percent of them are unvaccinated. And they’re getting very sick,” the mayor said.

“We need people to get vaccinated to protect themselves against the variant. Without that protection, you’re playing Russian roulette. This variant is real. It is deadly. It is devastating.”

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