City should require vaccine proof for patrons of restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms, music venues, aldermen say

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady have encouraged various businesses to require proof of vaccination, but they haven’t followed New York City in imposing a citywide requirement.

SHARE City should require vaccine proof for patrons of restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms, music venues, aldermen say
The updated fall 2023 vaccine targets currently circulating strains of the virus and will be available to everyone at no cost, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

A group of Chicago aldermen want the city to require proof of vaccination for patrons going inside a variety of businesses, including bars, restaurants, concert venues and theaters.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times (file)

Chicagoans should be required to show proof they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus before entering “public indoor settings,” including restaurants, bars, movie theaters, concert halls and gyms, a group of aldermen said Thursday.

The surprise safety recommendation was made by eight members of the City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Relations in a letter to Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

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The letter was signed by two of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s staunchest and most powerful City Council supporters: Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Ethics Committee Chairman Michele Smith (43rd).

Joining them were Aldermen: Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th); Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd); Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th); Andre Vasquez (40th); Matt Martin (47th) and Maria Hadden (49th).

Attendees at Lollapalooza in Grant Park were required to show proof of vaccination or of a negative COVID-19 test before entering the music festival.

Attendees at Lollapalooza in Grant Park were required to show proof of vaccination or of a negative COVID-19 test before entering the music festival.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Lightfoot and Arwady have encouraged businesses, restaurants, entertainment venues and stadiums to require proof of vaccination.

The Bulls and Blackhawks answered the call by announcing that fans will be required to show proof of vaccine before entering games at the United Center, which is jointly owned by the two teams.

But the mayor has, so far, been unwilling to follow New York City’s lead by imposing a citywide requirement, particularly on restaurants that were twice forced to close their indoor dining rooms during the pandemic and endure capacity limits in between.

In Thursday’s letter to Arwady, the aldermen cited four factors in demanding a vaccine mandate: the “uncontrolled community transmission” of the Delta variant; the threat of new variants; fall and winter weather that will “drive Chicagoans indoors” and “free and readily-available” vaccines that have now been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Hotel will continue as sanctuary for infected, respite for first responders

Also on Thursday, the Council’s Committee on Budget and Government Operations agreed to extend for up to three months an alternative housing agreement with the Hotel Julian.

In March 2020, the Julian was one of four Chicago hotels owned by Oxford Capital Group LLC that agreed to rent rooms to isolate patients who tested positive for the coronavirus or had been exposed to someone who had and provide a “sanctuary for first responders.”

The four hotels joined a network of hotel rooms intended to ease the strain on overburdened hospitals.

The new agreement calls for the city to rent 175 rooms at the Hotel Julian for one month with the option for a pair of 30-day extensions. The $540,000-a-month deal — including three meals per day and support services — will be bankrolled by FEMA, aldermen were told.

Maura McCauley, deputy commissioner of homeless services for the city’s Department of Family and Support Services, said the Julian will continue serving as a “de-compression shelter for single men experiencing homelessness” who are at “higher risk” because they are “older and health vulnerable.”

“We worked through the summer to support our shelter system returning to normal and bringing beds safely back to the system as the city reopened. However, some of our large congregate shelters are unable to bring all of their beds back to pre-COVID capacity and still implement the public health guidance, leaving our shelter system [short] of full capacity and with a gap in beds,” McCauley told aldermen.

“There are still 29 men staying at Julian and, due to the Delta variant and the latest positivity rates, we do need to continue to operate a version of alternate shelters. … Looking ahead to November as the contract ends, DFSS will continue to work on the next phase of alternate shelter options to continue supporting temporary beds through the winter. ... We’re also working to connect residents of the hotel with permanent housing options.”

Indicted Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) asked whether the city had considered acquiring the Julian instead. He was told Oxford Capital was “not looking to sell” the hotel, but the city was “looking at other locations.”

“We’re definitely interested in what is happening nationally with communities acquiring hotels and motels, using them for a temporary purpose during the pandemic, then eventually developing them into permanent housing down the road,” McCauley said.

“That’s something we’re working with the Department of Housing on in terms of conceptualizing and getting it moving.”

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