Not so fast: Lightfoot won’t put ‘artificial date’ on lifting mask, vaccination proof warrants

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she was not ready to ‘put an artificial date’ on Chicago’s mask lifting and proof of vaccination mandates – even though the city is making ‘significant progress’ in coping at the push of Omicron.

When Governor Pritzker announced last week that he would lift his indoor mask mandate for most public places by February 28, the Chicago Department of Public Health issued a statement signaling its intention to follow through. state’s example that day, unless metrics take a sharp turn for the worse.

It would have allowed Chicagoans to go barefaced to grocery stores, restaurants, theaters and most other places, while still wearing masks in hospitals, nursing homes and other areas. with vulnerable residents, as well as other locations where federal masking rules remain in effect. effect, including on public transport.

And while the numbers are improving, Lightfoot said Monday, essentially: Not so fast.

She noted that Feb. 28 is the “date set by the state,” but it is “not the date set by the city” and the city is free to impose stricter regulations.

“We are making huge progress in descending the backslope of the Omicron Surge. Probably in the last three weeks we’ve seen week over week a drop of about 50% or more in cases, which is a big improvement. We are still, however, at 500 cases per day. Not where we want to be. We still see too many people dying every day from COVID,” Lightfoot said.

The mayor said she and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady will have ‘more to say’ on the city’s mandates later this week, but ‘I don’t want to put an artificial date on the timing. where it will happen while we still see danger signs in the data. We’re using the same set of data and metrics we’ve used throughout the pandemic. We are progressing. But we are not there yet. »

As of Jan. 3, Chicago requires patrons of restaurants, bars and gyms to show proof of vaccination and photo ID. Arwady argued that the requirement increased vaccination rates.

Why, then, would Lightfoot even consider lifting the vaccine proof mandate in the coming weeks when it has been an effective tool in encouraging people to get vaccinated?

“It’s all about balance. We have heard a lot from those most affected – especially these companies – about their difficulties in enforcing the vaccine mandate, but also about the impact on their businesses,” the mayor said.

“We will always be driven by science and data. And that’s why I said I didn’t want to put an artificial date on it. We are going in the right direction. We have expectations of what we can do if we keep moving in the right direction. But we are not there yet. »

Pritzker said last week that the February 28 target date would not apply to schools, where his masking mandate would remain in effect. Lightfoot on Monday also indicated no change in stance on school masking, either — although the principals and presidents of five Catholic high schools — Marist, Brother Rice, Mount Carmel, Mother Macauley and St. Rita — wrote a joint letter to the mayor and Arwady urging them to immediately rescind the mandate.

Every time Chicago manages to lift its mask and vaccine mandates, one thing won’t change: the requirement that city employees be vaccinated and report their vaccination status on the city’s data portal.

That mandate went into effect Dec. 31 for all city employees except for rank-and-file police officers. The vaccination mandate for them remains in the hands of an arbitrator. Dozens of city employees have been placed on unpaid status. But none have been terminated.

“We informed people in August that this was critically important. Having a safe workplace is something that…we have an obligation to do. And I expect people to respect the mandate,” the mayor said.

“We gave them ample, ample, ample opportunity to comply. We worked with them. We have tried to meet them where they are. But, yes, there are people who have decided they’d rather not be a city employee than get vaccinated. And it’s their choice. But Chicago city workers will be vaccinated.

As of last week, 503 Chicago Fire Department employees and 2,886 Chicago Police Department employees were still unvaccinated. It was unclear how many of those employees had received medical exemptions or were on sick leave.

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