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Coalition of restaurants call on Lightfoot to postpone new COVID-19 mandate

Mary Kay Tuzi, owner of Twin Anchors at 1655 N. Sedgwick St., said restaurants have been unfairly targeted throughout the pandemic and have borne the brunt of COVID-19 mandates.

Roger Romanelli, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition coordinator, at news conference on Jan. 12, 2021.
Roger Romanelli, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition coordinator, at news conference on Jan. 12, 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A coalition of restaurants on Monday urged Mayor Lori Lightfoot to delay a new rule requiring restaurants and some other businesses to check the vaccination status of their customers.

But the coalition also is demanding that some places now exempt from the mandate be forced to follow the same policy.

“We all want to solve the COVID crisis, but forcing restaurants to completely change their operations in 13 days with tremendous legal liabilities and operational cost, that’s just not practical,” said Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association. “Let’s take our time here, take just a couple more days. We know Chicago is having a crisis, but don’t overly burden the restaurants and other business to solve the crisis.”

Romanelli was referring to the 13 days from Dec. 21, when Lightfoot announced the new mandate, to Jan. 3, when it takes effect. That policy would require restaurants, bars and gyms to verify customers’ vaccination cards and a photo ID. There are some exemptions, such as restaurant customers picking up a carry-out order.

On Monday, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition called on the city to postpone implementation until Jan. 15, saying they need time to hire or train staff to enforce the mandate, to install security cameras to capture customer interactions and for the Chicago Police Department to clarify what officers will do if a guest won’t provide a vaccination card.

“We are asking the mayor and we are asking directly to Chicago Police Supt. David Brown to provide written instructions for restaurants in case they have angry and unruly customers,” said Romanelli, coalition coordinator. “We want restaurants to be prepared, in case something happens, to work closely with the police department.”

Romanelli added if restaurants, bars, gyms and other entertainment venues must check vaccination cards, then all government buildings in Chicago should be required to do the same. Restaurants shouldn’t be singled out, since the city “has not provided our coalition evidence that restaurants in fact are hot spots for the COVID spread.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the risk of COVID-19 spreading increases with in-door dining at restaurants or congregate bar settings.

A spokesman with the mayor’s office said the city has already hosted education webinars that advised businesses on the new vaccination requirements.

“In response to the alarming rise in COVID-19 cases both locally and nationally, the city announced that proof of vaccination will be required to dine indoors, visit gyms or enjoy entertainment venues where food or drink are being served,” spokesman Cesar Rodriguez said. “Throughout this pandemic, businesses have shown their commitment to the health and safety of their employees and patrons by strictly following public health guidelines, including the Mask Mandate, which is still in effect.”

The new mandate does have some exemptions. Employees of the affected businesses, for example, can opt for weekly testing if they aren’t vaccinated.

Places exempt from the new mandate include houses of worship and grocery stores without indoor dining sections. So are restaurants at O’Hare and Midway airports, soup kitchens and day care centers.

Mary Kay Tuzi, owner of Twin Anchors, 1655 N. Sedgwick St., said if the incentive for these new mandates is to force people to get vaccinated, the city shouldn’t just stop with bars, restaurants and gyms. It should also be implemented at grocery and hardware stores because those are the places where “people have to go to that are much more imperative for them” to shop at.

Tuzi said restaurants like hers have been unfairly targeted throughout the pandemic and have borne the brunt of COVID-19 mandates.

“We are not a bar where we check IDs, so I have no idea of how I am going to, physically in my restaurant, figure out the logistics of how this is going to be done, short of having someone stand outside and check IDs,” Tuzi said. “Which means I am going to have to hire somebody new because I don’t have any people on staff to do (that). That’s not something I had in my budget.”