As the new omicron COVID-19 variant continues to spread across the U.S., with a case now identified in Chicago, health officials say the city could start requiring proof of vaccination status in public places.
In a Facebook Live event Tuesday, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said some private establishments have already started requiring proof of vaccination, and the city may follow.
"Might we begin requiring proof of vaccination for more activities and public spaces? Yes, I think we might," Arwady said. "I certainly am more interested in that than I am in needing to do some of the major shut downs."
Chicago will continue to require masks indoors, she noted, as well as requiring city workers to be vaccinated against the virus and encouraging increased hand-washing and social distancing as COVID cases rise citywide.
Previously, Chicago officials said a proof of vaccination requirement similar to one in New York City for things like indoor dining, restaurants, bars, gyms and other venues was not "off the table."
As it stands now, New York City's vaccine mandate requires proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and other venues. That requirement has not applied to the youngest eligible for vaccination, those aged 5 to 11, but it will going forward, though children in that age group will only have to show proof of one dose for now.
On Monday, however, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that her administration has no plans of enacting an employee vaccine requirement similar to that of New York City, which is set to be the most far-reaching vaccine mandate in the country and will require all private employers in New York City to institute vaccine requirements for their employees later this year.
During a press availability Monday, Lightfoot said that she does not anticipate putting a similar mandate into effect in Chicago, saying that there are real questions over whether such a requirement would pass judicial scrutiny.
“We will not see that here in the city of Chicago,” she said. “And frankly there’s a question of whether something like that is going to sustain what will invariably come as judicial review.”
Lightfoot, whose administration has required all city employees to either be vaccinated against COVID or to submit to bi-weekly testing, says that she appreciates the efforts of numerous businesses and venues to implement a variety of requirements for customers and attendees, including those that require a COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter a place of business.
"I’m encouraged, and I’m encouraging employers of all types to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to maximize safety in their workplaces like we have done," she said.
With COVID cases on the rise, and with the emergence of the omicron variant in the United States, Lightfoot says that taking steps to encourage vaccinations and social distancing are key to keeping residents safe.
“The pandemic is real. It is not going away," she said. "We are watching with great interest the developments and the science that’s being done around the omicron variant.”