Chicago to Require Vax Proof Starting in Jan. for Restaurants, Bars, Other Indoor Venues

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday Chicagoans looking to enter indoor venues serving food and drinks will need to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination starting Jan. 3.

In addition to restaurants, bars, sports stadiums and concert venues, the rules will also apply to gyms.

The move comes after an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the city. Chicago is dealing with about 1,700 new cases per day, up from 300 a few weeks ago.

Monday, Illinois reported approximately 12,330 new cases. This was the highest single-day number since 2020 and before the vaccines were widely available.

"To be clear, I have not been this concerned about COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic in 2020," Lightfoot said.

The new measures will not affect grocery stores, schools, office buildings, apartment buildings or religious institutions. Employees at affected venues who don't want the vaccine will have the option to do weekly COVID-19 tests, but this does not extend to customers.

Lightfoot urged Chicagoans to get vaccinated, noting that the city's daily rates of 60 hospitalizations and 10 deaths mostly apply to the unvaccinated.

"The solution is vaccine," Lightfoot said.

Lori Lightfoot, Chicago, mayor
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Chicago venues serving food and beverages will be required to get proof of vaccination from anyone entering. Above, Lightfoot speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Obama Presidential Center at Jackson Park on Sept. 28 in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

Much of Chicago's increase in cases has been driven by the Omicron variant, prompting fears of a winter surge.

Federal health officials announced Monday that Omicron accounted for 73 percent of new infections last week, a nearly sixfold increase in only seven days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Omicron's prevalence is even higher in some parts of the U.S., with the variant responsible for an estimated 90 percent of new infections in the industrial Midwest, the New York area, the Southeast and the Pacific Northwest.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced Monday that the city will require proof of vaccination for workers and customers at many indoor businesses beginning in mid-January. New York and San Francisco already require it.

Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, called the Chicago requirement a "reasonably measured approach."

"It certainly is better than shutting businesses down," he said.

Allison Arwady, Chicago's public health commissioner, said the requirement will apply to everyone age 5 and older, and that they must be "fully vaccinated," which the CDC currently defines as two weeks after the second dose of the vaccine. For people age 16 and older, a valid photo ID must be presented along with a vaccination card.

Lightfoot said city inspectors will monitor business compliance with the requirement. Warnings will be issued to businesses not complying, but if a business repeatedly violates the rules, "we're going to bring the hammer down," Lightfoot said.

Much about the Omicron variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing Omicron infection but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.

Arwady said 32.5 percent of Chicago residents age 18 and older have received booster shots.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Downtown Chicago, Illinois
Starting Jan. 3, Chicago restaurants, bars and other venues serving food and beverages will check for proof of vaccination. Above, a view of Downtown Chicago taken from a rooftop on June 30. Photo by Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images