With areas like New York City now requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for a number of indoor activities, could Chicago or Illinois start to require a similar "vaccine passport" for residents?
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has not announced any plans for a COVID vaccine requirement statewide, but Chicago's top doctor said Tuesday the city could have a type of vaccine passport in the future -- just not yet.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said that while the city is "interested" in the idea, there are no current plans to make a move similar to New York City.
"I think at this point I'm certainly... we're interested in this," Arwady said. "We'll be watching to see how this plays out, but we don't have a current plan to do something like that at the city level."
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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."
"I'll tell you in New York City, there's a couple things that are different. One is I think they have embraced this vaccine passport idea a little bit more than has been embraced here in the Midwest and across Illinois," Arwady said. "We've been working with the Illinois Department of Public Health to make it easier for people to be able to access their own vaccination records, thinking about some behind-the-scenes work to be able to have a more standard way for people to be able to show proof of vaccination, for example, because I do think where you're thinking about doing some of this potentially at a larger level, you want to make sure that it can be operationalized in a way that makes sense."
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot echoed Arwady's comments in a one-on-one interview with Telemundo Tuesday, saying 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."
Both Lightfoot and Arwady thanked the several restaurants around the city that are already making vaccines a requirement and said they hope to have better technology for businesses interested in making similar moves soon.
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.
"Climbing this ladder is giving us more and more ability to fight back (against) the delta variant," the mayor said Tuesday.
He has made no secret in recent days of his intention to ramp up restrictions on the unvaccinated.
"If people still hesitate, we're going to be climbing that ladder faster and more. I think you're going to see in short order more and more activities be only for vaccinated folks," De Blasio said last week.
The move comes as the highly transmissible delta variant continues its surge in New York City unabated, now accounting 72% of all positive samples -- roughly triple where it was three weeks ago.
At the same time, virtually every important infection metric in the city is getting worse too, with daily confirmed and probable cases as of last Friday some 24 percent higher than they were a week earlier.
As of Wednesday, Chicago's average daily number of new cases continued to increase to 252 per day - a 41% increase over the previous week.
That figure is also nearly seven times the low of 34 that the city saw in late June but remains significantly 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 down 19% and deaths are up 33% from last week, per the city's data. The positivity rate in testing is also up to 3.5% as of Wednesday.
Arwady noted earlier this month that about 99% of new COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated individuals.
"Definitely cases are on the rise. The Delta variant is here," Arwady said Tuesday. "We've been watching it rise over the last few weeks. I expect that to continue and being vaccinated is by far the most important thing to protect yourself. But while we get through this delta surge, as a reminder, we're asking everybody regardless of vaccination status to put that mask on when you're indoors."