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Biz owners chafe under new vax regs

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Mayor to ‘bring the hammer down’ on violators

By Tim Hadac

CRRNH MayorVaxRegs 122921

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announces new vaccination rules at a press conference last week. –Screenshot from a City of Chicago video stream

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has vowed to “bring the hammer down” on bars, restaurants, banquet halls, health clubs and other businesses that don’t comply with her new order that all customers must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, starting Monday, Jan. 3.

After a warning, businesses in violation could receive fines of $2,000 or more per offense. The maximum fine is $10,000.

But that threat doesn’t appear to sit well with some business owners in Clearing and Garfield Ridge.

“Most businesses are understaffed, paying a premium to gain or retain employees, overhead costs are at all time high due to supply chain issues, inflation, PPE costs, etc.,” said Garfield Ridge Chamber of Commerce President Mary Ellen Brown. “Now we have to figure out how to implement, train and staff people to comply with this new requirement.

“The City making requirements that puts the burden on businesses to ‘police’ people is ridiculous,” she continued. “The City is asking us to pick and choose customers that can patronize businesses and selectively refuse service. There are a multitude of reasons that people do not vaccinate; and now businesses are left to decipher and interpret how to proceed, with a risk of losing business and opening themselves up to lawsuits, altercations, etc.”

GRCC Board of Directors member Al Cacciottolo, himself a former bar/restaurant owner, agreed with Brown.

“This could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, if they really enforce this,” he said. “Places might just close for good, which will hurt our community.”

One business owner contacted by the Clear-Ridge Reporter & NewsHound, who asked that his name be withheld because he fears what he called “City Hall vindictiveness,” said Lightfoot’s order “is yet another example of government bureaucrats who have no idea what it is to own and operate a small business, trying to regulate business.

“I have problems with this on several levels,” he continued. “First, this will drive business away from Clearing and Garfield Ridge, and towards Bedford Park, Bridgeview, Summit, Countryside and La Grange, where Lightfoot’s order has no power. Second, there’s the unevenness of it. I have to play ‘vaccination cop’ at my restaurant; but a few blocks away, restaurants at Midway are exempt? Come on. Third, this new order will inevitably lead to a lot of fraud: customers coming in with falsified vaccination cards and businesses falsifying their logs to satisfy city inspectors.”

Brown pointed out that even people who are fully vaccinated may still get infected and transmit the virus to others.

“We all would like to see a decrease in positive cases and can understand the need for a proactive approach to curb the transmission of COVID-19,” she said.

She called upon the Lightfoot Administation to redouble its efforts to ensure vaccine is available in all city neighborhoods.

To that end, the GRCC is partnering with the Chicago Department of Public Health’s CareVan Program to offer Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations—as well as flu shots—at no charge from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4 at the Rhine VFW Post 2729, 5858 S. Archer. Advance registration is preferred, but walk-ins will be accommodated. To register, visit getvaxchi.chicago.gov.

Why the new order?

The new order was made in response to a sudden, sharp spike in the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, which is rapidly sweeping across the globe. Public health officials say they are concerned about hospitals being overwhelmed with a surge in Omicron cases, although the mayor said the city’s hospitals “are not on the cusp of collapse.”

Lightfoot’s directive means that all people 5 years of age or older will be required to show proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to dine indoors, visit gyms or enjoy entertainment venues where food or drink are being served.CRRNH NewVaxRegs 122921

Additionally, customers age 16 and over will also need to provide identification that matches their vaccination record. If any employees of these venues and establishments are not fully vaccinated, the employer must ensure that these employees both continue to mask when interacting with patrons and provide proof of a weekly negative COVID-19 test.

Chicago was already experiencing a COVID-19 surge thanks to the Delta variant, and as the much more contagious Omicron variant has become dominant over the last week, that surge has dramatically worsened. The city is now averaging more than 1,700 new COVID-19 cases in Chicago residents every day, a 79% increase from one week ago. Chicago’s test positivity rate is now over 7%, up from 4.1% one week ago.

More than 60 Chicagoans are being newly hospitalized with COVID each day and an average of 10 Chicagoans are dying from COVID each day. The large majority of Chicago’s COVID hospitalizations and deaths continue to be in people who are not vaccinated. All of these figures are the worst they have been since January 2021, before vaccines were widely available.

The new order’s nuts and bolts

The new order applies to:

  • 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; and
  • 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; and
  • 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.

The new vaccine requirement does not include houses of worship; grocery stores (though indoor dining sections within grocery stores would be included); locations in O’Hare International Airport or Midway International Airport; locations in a residential or office building the use of which is limited to residents, owners, or tenants of that building; or food service establishments providing only charitable food services, such as soup kitchens. Schools and day cares also are not included in the order.

Establishments will be required to develop and keep a written record describing the protocol for implementing and enforcing the vaccine requirement. Also, establishments will be required to prominently post signage at each publicly accessible entrance to the covered location and at least one location inside the covered location that is conspicuously visible, informing patrons of the vaccination requirement.

The following individuals are exempted from the vaccine requirement:

  • Individuals entering an establishment for less than 10 minutes for ordering and carrying out food; delivering goods; or using the bathroom;
  • A nonresident performing artist who does not regularly perform or render services in a covered location, or a nonresident individual accompanying such a performing artist, while the performing artist or individual is in a covered location for the purposes of such artist’s performance;
  • A nonresident professional athlete or a nonresident individual accompanying such professional athlete, who enters a covered location as part of their regular employment for purposes of the professional athlete/sports team competition;
  • Individuals who have previously received a medical or religious exemption, provided such patrons show the establishment proof of the medical or religious exemption and a COVID-19 test administered by a medical professional within the last 72 hours prior to entering.
  • An individual 18 years of age or younger who enters a covered location to participate in an activity organized by a school or after-school program offered by any pre-kindergarten through grade 12 public or non-public school; and
  • An individual who enters for the purposes of voting in a municipal, state or federal election; or, pursuant to law, assisting or accompanying a voter or observing such election.

Businesses seeking more information and guidance should visit Chicago.gov/COVID. The City of Chicago will be holding informational webinars to provide an overview of the vaccine requirement at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 29 and 2 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4. To register for a webinar, visit Chicago.gov/businesseducation.

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