The deadline for Chicago's employee vaccine mandate is Friday, raising concerns for some leaders as a standoff between the city and some first responders reaches a pivotal point.
Here's what you should know about the debate and what has happened so far.
What is the requirement?
Under the city's rules, city employees who aren't vaccinated by Friday have to get tested twice a week on their own time and expense until the end of the year, when they will be required to be vaccinated. Any employee not complying with those requirements could face disciplinary action, including and up to termination.
City officials have said there is no requirement to enter detailed medical information — only vaccination status and proof of vaccination.
"There is information online saying that people are being requested to upload private medical records, lots of medical history, DNA sample - none of that is true," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.
The city has a similar COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees of city schools, which the Chicago Teachers Union supported.
City officials say that employees who don’t adhere to the mandate, filling out information on a health portal set up by the health department, will be designated as non-disciplinary non-paid status.
What is the concern?
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara has encouraged union members not to adhere to the terms of the city’s mandate, sparking concerns from some on staffing issues heading into the weekend.
“It is an improper order. It’s illegal,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s Superintendent (David) Brown. If somebody orders you to go into the portal, refuse that order,” he said.
He instructed officers to file for exemptions to receiving vaccines but to not enter that information into the city's portal, telling the rank-and-file, "I do not believe the city has the authority to mandate that to anybody, let alone that information about your medical history.”
The dispute and the possibility that the department would be understaffed come at a fraught time for the city, which has seen a surge in the number of carjackings and expressway shootings and more homicides so far this year than were recorded at the same time last year.
First responders nationwide have been hit hard by the virus but some have been resisting vaccine mandates. More than 460 law enforcement officers have died of COVID-19, including four members of the Chicago Police Department, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
What is the city saying?
Police officers in Chicago will not be ordered to go home if they defy the city's requirement that they report their COVID-19 vaccination status or be placed on unpaid leave, police leaders and Chicago's mayor said Thursday.
“Nobody is going to be turned away,” said police department spokesman Tom Ahern. “Officers will be working their normal shifts this weekend (and) they wont be turned away or sent home... Officers will continue coming to work until they are told otherwise (and) that they are no longer on pay status."
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said employees won’t be designated as non-disciplinary non-paid status for several days.
“My expectation is that people who swore an oath to serve and protect the city are going to honor that oath and they’re going to show up, they’re going to report for duty, and they’re going to comply with a legal directive from the city and an order from the police department,” Lightfoot told reporters Thursday. “Anything less would be insubordination.”
While there are still concerns about police officers not reporting for work, the department said it won’t happen this weekend.
“I can assure you that this is not true. CPD will be fully staffed and ready to protect residents of this city,” Brian McDermott, chief of the Bureau of Patrol, said. “It is our full expectation that all CPD members will comply with the city’s policy.”
At City Hall, aldermen didn’t sound so confident, with some encouraging Lightfoot to postpone the implementation of the mandate, which both the police and fire unions in the city have promised to challenge in court.
“I don’t think people realize what could happen if hundreds of officers don’t show up for work,” Ald. Matthew O'Shea said. “Are we prepared for several hundred first responders not being there this weekend?”
Ald. Brian Hopkins said the public needs to be assured they won’t have their safety compromised if officers are stripped of their pay amid the vaccine mandate debate.
“We have to clarify, say ‘let’s everyone take the weekend to hit the reset button on this, let tempers cool down, and have the union and administration talk this thing through,'” he said. “We can’t have police walk off the job, but we have to stand by a vaccination mandate. We have to incentivize and maybe add a carrot to the stick to get police officers to comply.”