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Cook County to require vaccinations at restaurants, bars, gyms starting Jan. 3

The county’s announcement Thursday came as Illinois reported a single-day record of 18,942 new coronavirus cases.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle discusses the expiration of federal and state eviction moratoriums during a news conference at the County Building in the Loop, Monday morning, Aug. 2, 2021.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Thursday that customers will need to show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars and gyms beginning Jan. 3.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Cook County, following Chicago’s lead, will impose a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for customers of restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and fitness centers beginning Jan. 3.

The county’s announcement Thursday came as Illinois reported a single-day record of 18,942 new coronavirus cases. Another 78 people died of the disease, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The number of people in Illinois hospitalized for the virus - 4,271 - is the highest it’s been all year. And average intensive care bed availability remained at a low 11% statewide.

Under the order issued by the county’s Health Department, businesses must require anyone 5 years old or older to show proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Fully vaccinated means they are two weeks removed from their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson.

Booster shots are not currently required, but that could change if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changes the definition of “fully vaccinated” to include a booster shot, said Dr. Rachel Rubin, a senior medical officer with the county’s Health Department.

Businesses must also require patrons age 16 and older to show identification, such as a driver’s license or school ID with information, that matches the vaccination card.

Employees must be vaccinated or show weekly proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

Exemptions will be made for individuals entering an establishment for less than 10 minutes for ordering and carrying out food, making a delivery or using a restroom.

“We must do what’s necessary to protect our communities ... in lockstep with the city of Chicago,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said, noting the city’s vaccine mandate also takes effect Jan. 3.

“There’s no way to ensure 100% compliance. ... I’m hopeful that the large majority will comply,” she said.

The order immediately met resistance in south suburban Orland Park, where Mayor Keith Pekau said he had no plans to help enforce the order.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said, noting he believes county health officials haven’t made their case that bars, gyms and restaurants are a source of COVID-19 spread. “Business owners have to make their own decisions.”

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison called the order “overly aggressive” and an “overreach of authority and a policy approach which several courts have already ruled against” and “will very likely have a hurtful economic impact” on county residents.

Complaints to county health officials about violations will result in either the complaint being referred to individual municipalities, which would then “follow their own process” or the county handling the complaint by having a county health inspector follow up.

The county plans to work with businesses to resolve issues, but repeat offenders could be referred to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office for an administrative hearing that could lead to fines. In the case of “more egregious” violations, the county could also use the courts to seek to have a business temporarily closed while the matter is sorted out, a health department spokesman said.

Asked about the prospect of businesses facing penalties, Mayor Pekau said, “We’ll deal with that when it happens. The county can’t seem to enforce their current laws regarding carjackings and guns. Who knows what they’ll enforce. They seem to be more interested in targeting restaurants than actual criminals.”

Dr. Rubin said the county’s vaccine mandate will be reevaluated weekly and only be lifted when there’s a “significant” reduction in daily COVID cases and hospitalizations. She also urged businesses to rethink hosting large holiday parties before the mandate takes effect.

County officials plan to host a webinar Monday to field questions from business owners about the mandate.

Not displaying correctly? Read the mitigation order.