Steps Chicago Could Take if COVID Metrics Keep Rising, According to City's Top Doc

Dr. Arwady said she is more interested in a COVID vaccination requirement than "major shut downs"

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Chicago officials detailed this week what steps health officials could take in order to curb the increasing coronavirus metrics across the city, including providing proof of vaccination and establishing capacity limits.

As the new omicron COVID-19 variant continues to spread across the U.S., with at least one case identified in Chicago, health officials say the city could start requiring proof of vaccination status in public places.

In a Facebook Live event, 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."

Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, alderman for Chicago's 35th ward, said officials might consider mitigations like limiting capacity thresholds at various establishments, similar to what the city did during a major COVID surge last year.

"One option would be limiting the number of people that can attend a bar or restaurant, you know, capping it at 50% perhaps or less," Rosa said.

He added that residents shouldn't be concerned about the potential policy because officials have implemented it across the U.S. "with very good results."

On Monday, 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 U.S., 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.”

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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