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Mayor Lightfoot announces a vaccine mandate for Chicago restaurants and bars

Here’s what you need to know about the city's latest COVID-19 safety measures.

Emma Krupp
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Emma Krupp
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Want to dine indoors, have a drink at a bar or go to the gym? You’ll soon have to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to do so, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced in a Tuesday press conference. 

Starting January 3, 2022, most Chicago businesses—including restaurants, bars, fitness centers and indoor entertainment venues that serve food and/or drinks (see a complete list below)—will be required to seek proof of vaccination from all patrons ages 5 and older, which can be presented as a physical vaccine card, a photo of a vaccine card or a digital copy. Patrons 16 and older will also have to present a matching photo ID. Notably, patrons cannot use a negative COVID-19 test as a substitute for proof of vaccination as has been the case for large events like Lollapalooza, though employees of those establishments can provide weekly negative COVID-19 tests in lieu of vaccination. Weddings and private gatherings where food and drink are served are also covered by the city's vaccination mandate.

Houses of worship, grocery stores, K-12 schools, residential and office buildings are exempt from the mandate, as are individuals who have previously received a medical or religious exemption—though those individuals will still need to provide proof of the exemption and a negative COVID-19 test administered by a health professional within 72 hours. Patrons who are entering indoor venues for less than 10 minutes (e.g. to grab a pick-up order or use the bathroom) are also exempt from presenting proof of vaccination.

Businesses that neglect to post signage and enact a plan for checking customers' COVID-19 vaccination status can be cited by the city, with the fines for each violation ranging from $2,000 to $10,000. Businesses will be given 24 hours to correct any violations before they are fined.

The new mandate is designed to stem rising COVID-19 caseloads as the Omicron variant of the virus spreads across the United States. Chicago detected the state’s first case of the Omicron variant in early December, and within two weeks, it has become the most dominant variant in the U.S. and the Midwest. Right now, Chicago is averaging 1,700 new cases of COVID-19 a day and a test positivity rate of 7.4 percent, the latter marking the highest rate since January 2021. During the Tuesday press conference, Lightfoot said there’s “no denying” Chicago has entered a fifth wave of the pandemic. 

“I have not been this concerned about COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic in 2020,” Lightfoot said. 

A handful of U.S. cities, like New York and Los Angeles, have already implemented proof-of-vaccination requirements, and some Chicago businesses have elected to require proof of vaccination even without a requirement from the city. Chicago officials had been reluctant to adopt such measures, but there were signs that might change in recent weeks. In an online question-and-answer session earlier this month, Chicago Department of Public Health Allison Arwady said she preferred the idea of a vaccine requirement to another stay-at-home order. 

There’s currently no timeline on how long the proof-of-vaccine mandate will remain in place, or whether the city will move to impose further mitigations if cases continue to rise (back in August, Arwady said the city would “reexamine” the need for those measures if the number of new daily COVID cases hit 800 or higher). Lightfoot urged unvaccinated Chicagoans to get a shot, saying that increasing Chicago’s complete series vaccination rates—which currently stand at 63.7 percent of all residents—will be crucial in beating back Omicron, which typically causes mild infection in vaccinated individuals.  

“If you have been living life without having a vaccination, it’s time for a change,” Lightfoot said.

Businesses included in Chicago's proof-of-vaccination mandate

  • Indoor Dining: Establishments where food or beverages are served, including, but not limited to, restaurants, bars, fast food establishments, coffee shops, tasting rooms, cafeterias, food courts, dining areas of grocery stores, breweries, wineries, distilleries, banquet halls, and hotel ballrooms.
  • Indoor Fitness: Gyms and fitness venues, including, but not limited to, gyms, recreation facilities, fitness centers, yoga, Pilates, cycling, barre, and dance studios, hotel gyms, boxing and kickboxing gyms, fitness boot camps, and other facilities used for conducting indoor group fitness classes.
  • Indoor entertainment and recreation venues where food or beverages are served: Including, but not limited to, movie theaters, music and concert venues, live performance venues, adult entertainment venues, commercial event and party venues, sports arenas, performing arts theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, card rooms, family entertainment centers, play areas, pool and billiard halls, and other recreational game centers. 

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