Group of Chicago aldermen want mandatory COVID vaccines for public spaces

Push comes as President Joe Biden announces vaccine mandates plan in speech

ByJessica D'Onofrio, Craig Wall, and Maher Kawash and ABC 7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Friday, September 10, 2021
Chicago aldermen want vaccine mandate for public indoor spaces
Some Chicago aldermen want vaccines to be mandated when visiting public places like restaurants and gyms.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A group of aldermen are calling on the Chicago Department of Public Health for a vaccine mandate for public indoor settings like restaurants, movie theaters and gyms.

The push comes after President Joe Biden called on large venues to require vaccinations or proof of a negative COVID test.

In the letter, the aldermen said, "We believe it is time for Chicago to do the same given: (1.) the uncontrolled community transmission of the Delta variant, (2.) the threat of new variants, (3.) approaching colder weather that will drive Chicagoans to indoor activities, and (4.) free and readily available FDA approved and emergency authorized COVID-19 vaccines."

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The letter was signed by Aldermen Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Scott Waguespack, Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, Andre Vasquez, Michele Smith, Matt Martin and Maria Hadden.

The Chicago Department of Public Health responded to the letter with a statement saying, "Our goal as a City is that Chicago remain both open and safe, and at this point we remain in good control of COVID compared to most of the rest of the country. We require masks for everyone age 2 and over in all indoor public settings and are in communication with the business community on other mitigation measures they can take to slow transmission and keep Chicagoans safe. We will continue to monitor locations around the country and the world that have put vaccine requirements for certain businesses in place, as well as the results of those requirements. Many businesses and settings in the Chicago area have already made the choice to require proof of vaccination and we strongly support them. We continue to monitor the data daily and will adapt public health guidance as appropriate, as we have throughout the pandemic."

"I applaud those businesses and venues that are requiring vaccination proof or a negative test in order to get admittance and I think we're gonna see more of that," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

As more businesses impose restrictions on unvaccinated customers, there is now pressure on Mayor Lightfoot to extend vaccination requirements to certain public places.

Some Aldermen are asking the Chicago Department of Public Health to follow the lead of other cities and require people to be vaccinated to get into restaurants and other locations.

Dozens of restaurants across Chicago have already made the move, including the Split-Rail in West Town. It put the notice right at the front door that proof of vaccination is required to get in. But the owner says a city-wide mandate would level the playing field.

"I mean I think the vaccine is inevitable, like so many other vaccines, it's going to be required for most things so I think the faster we get to a point where everyone's doing it the sooner individual businesses won't be impacted," said Zoe Schor, Split-Rail Owner.

Eight alderman are asking Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady to follow the lead of New York and San Francisco and require proof of vaccination "... for persons visiting public indoor settings like restaurants, bars, movie theaters, gyms and concert halls."

"I don't think we're putting this out just to have a conversation, I mean, I think that's certainly an initial step, but let's see if this is something that is a good fit for Chicago," said Ald. Matt Martin, 47th Ward, who signed the letter to Arwady.

But some other restaurant owners are pushing back, saying they don't want to have to ask their staff to play vaccine police.

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"If you want to bring in a fake vaccine card, I'm not gonna train my staff to do that the way we train them to spot a fake ID," said Scott Weiner, Co-Owner Fifty/50 Restaurant Group. "You know, if someone want to lie, they're gonna lie."

Some customers though think it might be good for business.

"I think it will encourage people to get out there, who are feeling a little hesitant," said Jennifer Vehme.

But Mayor Lightfoot is not ready to order a vaccine card mandate for entry to indoor public places.

"I'm encouraged by the number of businesses and venues across the city that have said, if you're going to patronize us, if you're going to come through our doors, you must be vaccinated or you must show proof of a negative test," Lightfoot said.

Some Chicago residents are supportive of President Joe Biden's COVID vaccine mandate, while others are questioning it.

The letter comes as President Joe Biden announced his six-part plan, which includes employers with more than 100 workers to mandate vaccines or weekly COVID-19 testing.

Several large companies, including Disney and Chicago-based United Airlines have already announced employee vaccine mandates, but they're in the minority.

A new survey this morning shows just 15% of employers are requiring vaccination, another 11% requiring vaccination or regular testing. But that figure has been growing steadily.

"Companies have been looking for cover," said John Challenger of the firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. They don't want the backlash, but if it's now the way it has to be, they can just say this is a law. There's nothing we can do about it."

But some worry, about the rule's impact on an already-difficult labor market.

"When you see that there's so many jobs being unfilled out there, making it harder and harder to hire people is a real problem," said Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

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Some, including Indiana's attorney general, already considering a legal challenge.

The federal government can mandate vaccination for federal workers.

However, ABC7 Legal Analyst Gill Soffer said, "It's an open question whether the federal government can require private citizens within the confines of a state to take a vaccine. Matters of public health and safety are traditionally left to the states.

Research say it'll be hard to get everyone on the same page even with these mandates.

The owner of one of the largest construction companies in the nation plans to increase vaccination rates among his employees.

Clayco Construction is now requiring employees to get vaccinated or tested weekly, under President Biden's new federal plan for businesses with more than 100 workers.

""I think it's very positive," said Bob Clark, founder of Clayco. "We've been one of the companies that's really been pushing for vaccine mandates."

They've been pushing for a mandate like this because of the long battle with vaccine misinformation.

A battle Clark has seen for himself on some construction sites, which he said are filled with workers who refuse to get a shot.

"You hear things like, people think there's a chip being put in their body, they're being tracked... I mean, there's just a lot of incredibly ignorant information out there," Clark said.

A new poll from ABC News and Langer Research shows just 16% of unvaccinated Americans said they'd get the shot if their employer mandated it.

Clark said that may mean some employees will have to pay more for insurance or pay for weekly testing themselves.

"I don't think we will lay anybody off or fire anybody that doesn't get vaccinated, but we're definitely not hiring any new people that are not vaccinated," Clark said.

It's also a battle some vaccinated Americans are tired of hearing about-calling President Biden's mandate for these companies long overdue.

"Because people just don't seem to get the vaccine themselves, so maybe we're going to have to tell them they have to because it protects everybody else who already has it," said Lynn Schaadt.

Others agree but are hesitant about having companies mandate the vaccine.

Brandon Grier said he is vaccinated and works at an executive search company.

"I feel that it's not right to mandate people to get vaccines," he said. "I think that weekly testing is a really smart idea for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people because you can still get the virus either way but to force people to put something into their body that they don't necessarily know the effects of I don't think that's morally for ethically right."

Jim Borsth works at a company with more than 100 employees. He's on the fence about the president's plan.

"I think everybody should get vaccinated personally, but it's kind of a fine line I think that Biden is walking on this," Borsth said.

Carolina Gonzales feels people should be free to do what they feel is right for their own bodies.

"I do think that we each have a responsibility to not only take care of ourselves but everyone that we are surrounded with as well," she said.

Meanwhile, Rich Hasmonek who works in a large downtown office doesn't see the big deal over the employee vaccine mandate.

"I don't know the shot was no big deal, I don't know," he said. "I don't have any strong gotta just get back to work and if it takes a shot in the arm, that's fine."

Companies, like Clayco, are bringing in experts weekly to educate employees on the vaccine. The company also said 400 additional people got vaccinated once the FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine, so there has been some progress there.