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President Biden to visit Chicago on Wednesday to tout vaccine mandates for businesses

Biden intends to visit a Chicago business enforcing a vaccine mandate, a White House official said.

President Joe Biden speaks at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake on Wednesday, July 7, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake on Wednesday, July 7, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will visit the friendly confines of Chicago on Wednesday to “highlight the importance of COVID-19 vaccine requirements for businesses,” the White House announced Thursday.

The Chicago Sun-Times has learned Biden intends to visit a Chicago business enforcing a vaccine mandate, a White House official said.

Earlier this month, Biden ordered that all federal workers and contractors must get vaccinated, with few exceptions, and that private employers with 100 or more workers will have to require workers to be vaccinated or tested weekly — and provide time off for the shots.

However, the order is not yet in effect. At a meeting with business leaders and CEOs at the White House on Sept. 15, Biden said, “The Labor Department is working on an emergency rule that will require all employers with 100 or more workers to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated and regularly tested. And it’s going to take a little bit for them to put those requirements in place under the law.”

Biden arrives next week as northern Illinois may have punched through the Delta variant threat for now, with downstate Illinois hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, both Democrats, are strong supporters of Biden’s domestic agenda with state and city governments benefiting from historic levels of federal funding in order to offset the economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But so far, there are no sweeping citywide or statewide vaccine mandates.

Pritzker is requiring “all health care workers, including nursing home employees, all pre-k-12 teachers and staff, as well as higher education personnel” to be vaccinated, as well as those “congregate facilities,” including veterans homes and prisons.

Lightfoot said Wednesday she will enforce her Oct. 15 deadline for all city employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine even as the police union, almost always at odds with Lightfoot — the Fraternal Order of Police leader is a Trump backer — opposes the mandate.

On Thursday, Lightfoot launched the latest city drive to persuade people to get vaccinated — calling it “Protect Chicago 77.” The goal is for at least 77% of all Chicago residents ages 12 and up to get at least the first COVID-19 vaccination by the end of the year. At present, 72.4% of Chicagoans age 12 and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The White House is not putting out details yet on Biden’s visit. At the “77” event, Lightfoot said City Hall and the White House are in “early stages” of conversations about the visit.

By the way, the 77 is a reference to the 77 community areas in Chicago.

This will be Biden’s second presidential visit to Illinois.

For his first visit, he touched down at O’Hare on July 7 and headed to Crystal Lake to boost Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., and to push his infrastructure plan, now facing a rocky road in Congress, with its fate linked to other legislation.

Vice President Kamala Harris, landing at Midway Airport on April 6, toured a COVID-19 vaccination center at 2260 S. Grove St. organized by the Chicago Federation of Labor.

“Please tell all your friends, tell your aunties and uncles, and your grandparents and kids that when it’s their turn, it’s their time and let’s all just do what we need to do to be healthy to be safe, take care of ourselves and our families, and in that way we will build back up,” she said.

Before returning to the airport, Harris dropped by the Brown Sugar bakery at 328 E. 75th St.

In April, first lady Jill Biden, who teaches at a community college in northern Virginia, made her first visit to Illinois, appearing at Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon.

In July, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, husband of the vice president, visited a barbershop in Englewood and a health center a few blocks away on the South Side as part of the Biden administration drive to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

During his speech at McHenry County College in heavy Trump political turf, Biden said what the infrastructure bill could mean for Illinois. “You’ve got, like many states — all states — you’ve got 230 — 2,374 bridges and over 6,200 miles of highway that are in disrepair. As a result, every driver in this state pays a hidden tax of about $600 per year in wasted time and wasted fuel because of the nature of the roads and bridges — and, by the way, you’re better than a lot of states — not to mention the challenge of getting to work or getting to the daycare center on time to avoid that late fee when you pick up your child.

“Your governor has an ambitious infrastructure plan, and under a bipartisan infrastructure agreement, we’re going to make the biggest investment in roads and bridges since the construction of the Interstate Highway System, literally creating millions of good-paying jobs.”