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Suburban Chicago Issues Vaccine Mandate for Restaurants and Bars

Cook County follows Chicago’s lead in requiring vaccines in public indoor places

The exterior of a suburban bar with a wooden door and peaked roof.
FitzGerald’s in Berwyn already has a vaccine requirement.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Suburban Cook County will follow Chicago in instituting a vaccine mandate for restaurants and bars starting on January 3. The policy mirrors what Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday, requiring dine-in ages 5 and up to be “fully vaccinated.” Those 16 and older will have to show proof in towns like Orland Park, Schaumburg, and Wheeling.

Fully vaccinated — in the eyes of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where agencies like Cook County take its leads — means two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer or the first shot of the Johnson & Johnson jab. Boosters are encouraged but not required by the county. The mandate also covers gyms, movie theaters, and anywhere where food and drink are served — including private events likes weddings.

The Chicago measure includes a provision where those entering for less than 10 minutes would not be required to show proof. This would apply to those picking up food or using a bathroom. Additionally, restaurant reservation websites are stating to roll out verification badges so restaurants will not have to check for status on every single visit. Once a diner is verified, a restaurant worker will just have to look at their reservation.

While the city and county aren’t pushing for a passport system like the one seen in New York — an app that would instantly show verifications — Cook County and Chicago have been pushing residents to use its Vax Verify portal. The portal isn’t smooth — for instance, it can’t verify users who have obtained shots out of state.

Chicago will join New York City and San Francisco as major markets with vaccine requirements. Boston and Philadelphia will also implement their own mandate. While customers will be required to show evidence of inoculation, workers can submit to weekly tests to satisfy the mandate.

The measures are in response to omicron’s spread, which is fueling a surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations, mostly among the unvaccinated. The spike has led numerous restaurants to cancel reservations, pivot back to takeout, and to close their dining rooms. Vaccines have been able to blunt severe symptoms, even though breakthrough cases have been reported.

Chicago restaurant owners have reported that customers have been overwhelmingly supportive of a vaccine requirement; many venues voluntarily have been asking for vaccines since the summer. However, the sell might be different in the suburbs, as owners with restaurants in Chicago and beyond say that attitudes have been different.