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Chicago and Boston will require proof of vaccination in indoor settings

People line up to get tested for COVID-19 at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Boston, Mass., on Monday.
Joseph Prezioso
AFP via Getty Images
People line up to get tested for COVID-19 at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Boston, Mass., on Monday.

Residents of Chicago and Boston will soon be required to show proof of full vaccination in order to enter indoor spaces like gyms, restaurants and entertainment venues, in the latest example of cities tightening public health rules to combat the spread of the omicron variant.

The Chicago Department of Public Health announcedTuesdaythat beginning Jan. 3, the city will require everyone ages 5 and up to be fully vaccinated in order to access indoor dining, fitness and recreation venues. They must present either their vaccination card, a photocopy of it, a digital record or a printed record from their vaccine provider.

"To put it simply, if you have been living vaccine-free, your time is up," Mayor Lori Lightfoot wrote on Twitter. "If you wish to live life as w/the ease to do the things you love, you must be vax'd. This health order may pose an inconvenience to the unvaccinated, and in fact it is inconvenient by design."

The order will remain in effect until city officials have determined the threat of COVID-19 to public health has "diminished significantly," she added.

It comes as Chicago is seeing its highest number of hospitalizations since last winter's surge and its highest rate of deaths in months, Lightfoot said, adding that a post-holiday surge in cases is expected.

The city is averaging nearly 1,800 cases per day, up 79% from just a week ago, according to member station WBEZ. Dr. Allison Arwady, the city's top public health official, predicted it will break its single-day new case record in the next week or so.

"We didn't want it to get to this point, but given the situation we find ourselves in, we have no choice," Lightfoot tweeted.

As for the fine print: The order defines "fully vaccinated" as two weeks after either one shot of a single-dose vaccine or the second shot of an mRNA vaccine series. Proof of vaccination is not required for employees of such businesses, but masks and weekly negative COVID-19 tests are. The order does not apply to places like houses of worship, grocery stores, schools and locations such as residential or office buildings and the airport.

In announcing its decision, Chicago's health department said the order was driven in part by the omicron variant and is in line with existing requirements in large cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Los Angeles started requiring proof of vaccination at a wide range of businesses in November. New York has required proof of vaccination for indoor settings since early August, and earlier this month announced a vaccine mandate for private companies that is set to take effect on Monday.

Chicago's announcement came one day after Boston said a similar policy would take effect in mid-January.

Under the new order, people must show proof of vaccination in order to get into indoor restaurants, bars, nightclubs, fitness centers and entertainment venues (here's the full list of settings).

It will roll out to different age groups between January and May. Beginning Jan. 15, people ages 12 and up will have to show proof of one dose, which will change to proof of full vaccination one month later. Children between the ages of 5-11 must show proof of one dose starting March 1, everyone ages five and up must show proof of full vaccination beginning May 1.

The order doesn't currently require booster shots, but the city says that is subject to change based on public health data and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. It applies to patrons as well as employees of those businesses.

Mayor Michelle Wu said Boston is also tightening its vaccine requirement for city employees.

City workers have until now been allowed to avoid vaccination by submitting to weekly tests, but will no longer be able to do so unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption, member stationWGBH explains. Citing Wu, it adds that 90 percent of Boston's nearly 18,000-strong workforce has already been vaccinated.

WGBH also reports that several Massachusetts cities and towns appear to be following Boston's lead and are expected to announce indoor vaccine requirements imminently.

Other cities are bringing back or tightening public health measures as omicron spreads.

The mayor of Washington, D.C., for example, reinstated its mask mandate effective Wednesday — exactly a month after she lifted it — as the city reports consecutive days of record-breaking new infections. And the city council of Oakland, Calif., passed an ordinance on Tuesday requiring proof of vaccination for many indoor businesses, effective Feb. 1.

This story first appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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