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As more places demand COVID vaccination proof, here’s everything you need to know

The rules often vary. What some businesses are requiring, how to navigate this — including how to get a card from Northwestern Medicine, which initially didn’t provide them.

Denver Justine Lively-Hatcher checks COVID-19 vaccination cards and IDs at The Hideout. The North Side music venue is among Chicago businesses now requiring its patrons to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.
Denver Justine Lively-Hatcher checks COVID-19 vaccination cards and IDs at The Hideout. The North Side music venue is among Chicago businesses now requiring its patrons to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.
Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

In the absence of a government mandate on coronavirus vaccines, Katie Tuten, co-owner of The Hideout, set up her own COVID-19 vaccine requirements to protect her employees and patrons from the virus.

“We’re just managing the risk as best we can,” says Tuten, whose club at 1354 W. Wabansia Ave. is among dozens of Chicago bars and performance venues that have announced they’re requiring employees, performers and patrons to provide proof they are vaccinated or of a recent negative coronavirus test.

Major Chicago-area companies also requiring vaccinations for some or all of their employees include United Airlines, Walgreens, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Advocate Aurora Health, Ascension Health, Rush University Medical Center, Loyola Medicine, University of Chicago Medicine and UI Health.

On Friday, the Chicago Public Schools announced that all teachers, staff and vendors must be vaccinated by Oct. 15 unless they have a medical or religious reason not to.

Nationally, Google, Facebook, Disney, Netflix, The Washington Post, Cisco, Frontier Airlines, Walmart and Tyson Foods are among those with new vaccine mandates.

President Joe Biden has said federal employees and on-site contractors must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. And he has ordered that members of the military must be vaccinated beginning next month, when the Food and Drug Administration is expected to give final approval to the Pfizer vaccine.

Hundreds of colleges and universities, including the University of Illinois, are requiring the shots for employees and students this fall.

The vast majority of those hospitalized with coronavirus amid the surge of the highly infectious Delta variant are unvaccinated people.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce has called on Chicago businesses to require vaccination unless there’s a valid health or religious reason — “or have stringent masking and testing protocols in place if vaccine requirements are not possible.”

That Chicago businesses are stepping up on vaccines is encouraging to Sydney Schumacher, who’s vaccinated. But it’s tough to navigate things when there’s no single accepted way to provide proof, says Schumacher, who went to Lollapalooza in July and says some of the bouncers at the front gate were pretty laid back about checking. The music festival required people to bring and show their vaccination card, not just a smartphone photo.

“They weren’t checking your I.D. to see if you are who you say you are,” says the Lincoln Park resident, who put hers in a plastic bag to protect it. “They briefly looked at it. But it wasn’t super in-depth to make sure it was your vaccine card.”

Festival-goers show proof of COVID-19 vaccination as they pass through a health screening station at the main entrance at Lollapalooza in Grant Park.
Festival-goers show proof of COVID-19 vaccination as they pass through a health screening station at the main entrance at Lollapalooza in Grant Park.
Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Other Chicago festivals have gone further. The Windy City Smokeout country festival in July required all ticket-holders to upload their vaccination record to an app in advance.

At The Hideout, a smaller club that’s presenting only outdoor shows on its patio for now, patrons can show a card, a photo of a card on their phone or an app, any of which gets checked against their driver’s license photo.

“No system is going to be perfect,” Tuten says. “People have been just wonderful about it. They’re being really supportive.”

Katie Tuten, co-owner of The Hideout.
Katie Tuten, co-owner of The Hideout.
Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Nearly three-quarters of eligible Illinois residents have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and about 57% are fully immunized.

Here’s the lowdown on key questions about providing proof that you’re immunized.

Do Chicago or the state have an official vaccination app?

No. But Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner, says she’s monitoring how New York City’s vaccine mandate and phone app for indoor restaurants, gyms and performances is working.

“I’m not taking it off the table, that that might be something that we could consider in the future,” Arwady said Thursday. “We’ve been really pleased to see employers make that decision to mandate vaccinations or, in some cases, vaccinations or frequent negative testing for their employees. ... And I’ve also been thrilled to see so many high-risk settings, whether that’s bars, whether that’s clubs, whether that’s events, make that decision to require proof of vaccination or a negative test to come in.”

Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, says the state “is not considering apps at this time.”

Her agency has just launched what it calls Vax Verify, an online portal that people can use to check how their vaccination status is recorded with the I-CARE, the Illinois Comprehensive Automated Immunization Registry Exchange, and download and print their record. It uses Experian, the credit-reporting agency, to verify a person’s identity.

Technologically, New York is ahead of Illinois. It has its Excelsior Pass app, which provides a QR code once a person’s uploaded vaccine information is confirmed with city or state records. And New York City has the COVID Safe App, which keeps an image of people’s cards on their phone but doesn’t verify it.

Should I carry my paper card?

You could. Or take a photo of it with your smartphone, and use that when asked for proof of vaccination.

If you’re worried about privacy, you can keep that photo private on an iPhone by going to the “share” button in “Photos” and selecting “hide. To find it again, tap “albums,” and scroll to “utilities.” You also can hide it in your iPhones Notes app. On Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy phones, you can store the photo in a locked folder.

You also could use another phone app to store your vaccine info.

Like which other apps?

Anyone can use the COVID Safe app offered by New York City. Basically, it stores a copy of your vaccination card on your phone.

Other apps include Clear Health Pass, VaxYes, Airside and CommonPass.

Since businesses can choose to accept any or none of these apps, and that could change, it’s best to check in advance before heading, say, to a music festival or performance and see whether its website explains what’s required.

Some institutions are creating their own apps. This fall, the University of Illinois is requiring students and staff to upload their vaccination cards to a portal, to be checked against public health records, says Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs. Once the info is verified, the person can use their phone to gain entry to university buildings.

Is it OK to laminate my vaccination card to protect it?

Bad idea. Because whenever the day comes when people might need a booster shot, whoever provides it will need to note that on your card.

If you’re worried about spills ruining your card, you could always buy a plastic sleeve for it.

What if I lose my card?

Contact your vaccine provider. It will have your record and can issue a new card.

If you have any trouble, contact Illinois’ I-CARE registry. For details, go online to http://dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/prevention-wellness/immunization/icare

What about getting a replacement from the CDC?

Even though vaccination cards bear the logo of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency doesn’t store individuals’ health data and can’t issue replacement cards.

What if my provider didn’t provide cards?

That, for instance, was the case early on with Northwestern Medicine, which told patients to go to their online MyChart record and print that out for proof, rather than give a CDC card. Now, any Northwestern patient who wants a CDC card can request one in MyChart or by calling (877) 973-2673.

Is it even legal to require vaccination for work?

Yes. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance in May that said it is legal under federal law for businesses to require a COVID-19 vaccination. The EEOC says that, as long as an employer complies with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other equal opportunity considerations, they can require that their workers be vaccinated.

Even so, some states have passed laws banning vaccine requirements, notably Texas and Florida, states in which the number of cases of the highly contagious Delta variant have been shooting up.

Expect court fights to settle this, such as a recent federal ruling in favor of Norwegian Cruise Line, which is requiring that its crews and passengers prove they’re vaccinated despite Florida’s state law against doing so.

What about fake cards?

Those have been offered for sale online. But the FBI warns that it’s a crime to falsely use the seal of a federal agency. The Justice Department charged a California woman with wire fraud last month, accusing her of supplying fake cards and bogus “immunization pellets.”

Besides, why spend hundreds of dollars on a fake card and risk getting sick or dying from COVID or passing it on to a loved one when you can get a lifesaving vaccination for free?