With cities in parts of the U.S. considering a COVID vaccine requirement for certain activities, could Chicago follow suit?
The city's top doctor says there are no current plans for implementing such a vaccine mandate, but it's not off the table.
New York City now requires proof of vaccination for indoor activities like dining, fitness and entertainment, and according to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, more cities could follow suit.
"We may see some of this out of New Orleans even potentially or other places just where rates are so high that having a vaccine, or potentially a vaccine or a negative test, may be something that we see required and so I'm not taking off the table that that might be something we could consider in the future, but right now, really we're trying to keep the focus on getting folks vaccinated," Arwady said Thursday.
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Arwady noted Chicago and Illinois are still working on technology to implement vaccine proof on such a grand scale, though she noted making such a requirement is "a really big decision."
Illinois on Wednesday launched a new portal called "Vax Verify" that allows residents to check their COVID-19 vaccination record.
Vax Verify will enable residents ages 18 and older to verify and download their immunization information, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced.
“As more businesses, events, organizations, and others require proof of vaccination, Illinois residents will be able to confirm using Vax Verify that they have been vaccinated for COVID-19,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “With the current surge in cases, more people are making the decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine and this new tool will aid residents in confirming their vaccination where needed.”
Arwady also highlighted that individual businesses and employers have already started requiring vaccinations regardless of a mandate.
"We've been really pleased to see employers make that decision to mandate vaccination or in some cases vaccination or frequent negative testing for their employees. We think that's a best practice and certainly one that we're looking at closely here at the city as well. And I've also been thrilled to see 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 negative test to come in. We think that is also a best practice where people want to put that in place and we've been trying to support businesses who are doing that."
Enforcement of what is being called the "Key to NYC Pass" is set to begin Sept. 13, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday. It will be its own digital platform, separate from the state's Excelsior Pass, though the latter will also be valid, as will paper vaccination cards.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said last week that while she's watching to see how New York's move plays out, "we're not ready."
"Anything that we do, we've got to do it in partnership with those businesses that are going to be directly affected. As you know, our restaurants, bars and hotels have been dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 mandated shutdowns," she said. "We're not going to take any steps in any direction without being in conversation in collaboration with them. It's interesting that New York has decided to take this step, we'll certainly look at it, but we're not ready to take that kind of... that's a pretty drastic step."
When it comes to implementing a vaccine passport, Arwady also noted Thursday that such a move isn't currently planned in Chicago.
"We're not seriously considering that at this time," she said. "What we're doing is looking around the country to see how this is playing out. I'm very interested in some of this tech work to make sure that no matter what settings - your employer decides that they want to have a check vaccination status etc. - we'd like to think about how to make that be more possible. But we are not seriously considering at this point a vaccination passport per se as people use that term."
Arwady's update on Thursday came at a time when the average daily number of new cases in Chicago is up to 364 per day - a 39% increase over the previous week.
That figure is also more than 10 times the low of 34 that the city saw in late June but remains lower than the more than 700 cases per day the city was seeing earlier this year and last, before vaccines were widely available.
Hospitalizations in Chicago are up 6% from last week while deaths are up 29%, per the city's data. The positivity rate in testing is up to 3.8% as of Thursday, an increase from 3.5% last week, which has risen each week since it was at 1% a month ago.