Breakthrough cases, the rise of the Delta variant, and changing mask guidelines present a challenge for restaurant and bar owners.
At the beginning of summer, things were beginning to look up for restaurants and bars. Chicago opened up with no restrictions, and masks were optional for the fully vaccinated. Crowds returned to dining out, eager to celebrate after over a year of lockdowns, quarantines, and Covid mitigations.
But, as we've seen over and over, nobody can predict this virus. And now, the Delta variant has changed the game once again.
Covid cases are up in Chicago, and the Delta strain has proven to be even more transmissible than the original Alpha. Chicago health officials are recommending that everyone wear masks indoors regardless of vaccine status. But so far, no mandates have been issued.
Some Chicago restaurant owners are worried if cases continue going up, mitigations might come back. To fight this, and to prevent shutdowns due to Covid outbreaks in their places of business, some owners have begun to require patrons to show proof of vaccine before entering.
According to Eater Chicago, 2Bears Tavern Group sent out an email stating they will require vaccination proof beginning this week.
Brad Balof, general manager of Sidetrack on North Halsted Street is also requiring vaccination cards at the door. Balof told CBS2 Chicago, he doesn't want another round of closures to hurt his business, "We want to stay open. We don’t want to revert back to some of the guidelines we had to revert to the past 18 months.”
How to prove vaccine status is challenging
Proof of vaccination may be difficult for restaurants to confirm as there have been reports of counterfeit vaccine cards circulating in the city. Although those faking a card may want to think twice, as the FBI has warned there could be penalties for buying, selling, or making fake cards of up to five years in prison.
Michael Roper, owner of Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville on Chicago's north side is not asking to see customer's vaccine cards, but he is asking them to stay away if they don't have their Covid vaccine.
He recently posted on Facebook, "if you are not vaccinated, please stay away. If you show symptoms, stay home."
New York City is the first in the nation to use a vaccine pass
In New York, the city announced on Tuesday they will require proof of at least one dose of the Covid vaccine for indoor dining, gyms, and theaters. Though New York is the first city in the U.S. for such a program, it's similar to mandates in France and Italy.
Will Chicago join New York in requiring a vaccine pass for certain activities?
Not yet, but it is possible. Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said it is something the city might consider in the future, "I think at this point I'm certainly...we're interested in this. We'll be watching to see how this plays out, but we don't have a current plan to do something like that at the city level."
Dr. Arwady did address the fact that midwesterners might not be so quick to embrace the vaccine pass program as New Yorkers, "I'll tell you in New York City, there's a couple things that are different," she said. "One is I think they have embraced this vaccine passport idea a little bit more than has been embraced here in the Midwest and across Illinois."
Late Tuesday it was announced that Governor Pritzker will hold a news conference at 2:30 PM Wednesday to announce new Covid protocols. These are assumed to be guidelines that follow the CDC's new recommendations including possible universal masking for schools.
As of now, there is no expectation that Illinois, or Chicago, will implement a vaccine card pass, although more and more restaurants may ask to see proof of vaccination before letting customers in the door.
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