The once-dominant Delta variant has now been bypassed in the U.S. by a new iteration of the coronavirus: Omicron. This new variant accounts for more than 73 percent of COVID cases in the country now, making it the dominant version of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cases are also spiking in several parts of the U.S. now because of the Omicron variant. While the earlier Delta surge over the summer had many health officials turning to vaccine mandates to try to bring case rates back down, Omicron’s exponential spike has inspired some brand new and wide-sweeping mandates of its own.
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The city of Chicago will soon have a vaccine mandate in place, according to a Dec. 21 announcement from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, per CNN. This mandate will apply to most businesses in the city that serve food or drinks, requiring them to check proof of vaccination for any patron 5 or older, starting Jan. 3.
Vaccine requirements will apply to a number of other indoor public places, including gyms, movie theaters, concert venues, and arcades. Certain businesses will be exempt from the mandate, however. This includes grocery stores, schools, places of worship, office buildings, and residential buildings.
“The unvaccinated are affecting the health, well-being, and livelihoods of all the rest of us,” Lightfoot said, per CNN. “To control the spread, we have to limit the risk.”
According to Lightfoot, all patrons will have to be fully vaccinated at this point to enter affected establishments and there will be no alternative testing option. Employees for these businesses must also be vaccinated, but those who remain unvaccinated will be provided with a test-out option, unlike patrons.
“If any employees are not fully vaccinated, you must ensure that these employees both continue to mask when interacting with patrons and provide proof of a weekly negative COVID-19 test,” the City of Chicago’s official website states.
Omicron has helped bring forth a COVID surge in many places across the country, including Chicago. The city has had more than a 100 percent increase in infections this week compared to last, according to the latest data from the city. Hospitalizations in Chicago are also at their highest since last winter’s surge and deaths are at a higher rate than the city has seen in months, Lightfoot said.
“I’ve not been this concerned about COVID-19 since the early days in February 2020,” she said, adding that the vaccine mandate will remain in effect until the city has decided that the risk is diminished and the city is no longer in an Omicron-driven surge.
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Chicago is hardly the first city to implement such a mandate. In September, New York City started requiring indoor spaces to collect proof of at least one COVID vaccine dose from patrons, and starting Dec. 27, people 12 years or older will be required to provide proof of full vaccination to enter most indoor establishments. Los Angeles and San Francisco also already have vaccine mandates in place, while New Orleans and Seattle have similar requirements that include a testing option, according to CNN.
But the city of Chicago is part of a recent uptick in cities announcing mandates for the new year amid the spread of the Omicron variant. On Dec. 20, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu revealed that the city would start requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining, fitness venues, theaters, and arenas on Jan. 15.
The city of Philadelphia also announced in December that it would start requiring establishments that sell food or drink for consumption onsite to collect proof of COVID vaccination from patrons. This mandate will go into effect on Jan. 3, but establishments may accept proof of a negative COVID test result within 24 hours of entry in lieu of vaccination proof for the first two weeks. After Jan. 17, everyone must be fully vaccinated.
Jonathan Levy, a public health professor at Boston University, told The Boston Globe that these new vaccine mandates are “better late than never,” but he expects that the Omicron variant will have “major impacts” in the coming weeks before such policies will be implemented. “This won’t solve the issue in the next few weeks, but it’s an important step,” Levy said, noting that announcing a mandate without providing sufficient lead time to allow unvaccinated people to get shots would be unfair.
“I wish we were taking these actions faster,” Wu said at a press conference Dec. 21, per Politico. “I know we are in the midst of a surge right now, but we are moving as quickly as we can.”
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