Chicago’s vaccination requirement for indoor dining and other public areas will be removed once the city’s COVID-19 spread declines substantially, the city’s top health official said Thursday.
The city’s proof-of-vaccination mandate for those 5 and older has been in place since Jan. 3 at restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues and more amid the surge of the highly contagious omicron variant. During a question-and-answer session Thursday, public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the requirement will be lifted in accordance with a decrease in COVID-19 risk.
Arwady said those decisions will be based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s four levels of community transmission: low, moderate, substantial and high. Chicago is currently at a “high” level of spread, with an average 104 daily cases per 100,000 residents and a 11.9% test positivity rate.
When the city gets to a “moderate, low risk” level, Arwady said, the vaccination requirement will be lifted.
“When we get back down into that sort of moderate, low risk, we will not have the vaccination requirement in place because the vaccination requirement is in place in high-risk settings,” Arwady said.
The CDC defines moderate transmission as a seven-day average of under 50 new cases per 100,000 residents and under an 8% test positivity rate. Low transmission is measured at below 10 new cases per 100,000 residents and under a 5% positivity rate.
Arwady maintained that such a date for Chicago is not in the near future, as the city is only just past the omicron peak, and that another troublesome variant could emerge.
The health commissioner added that preliminary data show the December announcement of a proof-of-vaccination mandate was followed by an increase in first doses among 18- to 29-year-olds as well as Latino and Black Chicagoans.
The city’s indoor mask requirement also remains in place — a mandate that Arwady on Thursday also hinted could be taken off with COVID-19 numbers decline, though a statewide requirement would have to be lifted first. But she said that doesn’t mean residents should let their guard down.
“Eventually being able to take the vaccination requirement off, eventually being able to take masks off, is that in our future? I absolutely expect that,” Arwady said. “Is that in our future imminently? Absolutely not. I’m hopeful that sort of by the spring we’ll be in that place.”
Arwady’s comments came a day after the state’s top health official, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration is discussing the next phases of the state’s response to the pandemic as the latest surge, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, begins to subside.
“We’ve been waiting for an opportunity to think about how we pivot to the next stages. And so as we come up with that between the IDPH team and the governor’s office, we will absolutely share what what plans we have to move forward in this pandemic,” Ezike said during a news conference Wednesday, without offering specifics.
Aside from helping administer coronavirus vaccinations and tests, and requiring them for workers in specific state jobs and certain other industries, Pritzker’s main strategy for slowing the spread over the past several months has been a statewide indoor mask mandate. After a brief pause over the summer, the requirement was reinstated in August, with the administration pointing to the same CDC measure of community transmission Arwady cited as a trigger for lifting the city’s proof-of-vaccination rule.
The governor’s office and the Department of Public Health in the past have declined to say whether that would be the bench mark for lifting the mask mandate. Regardless, that move is unlikely to come anytime soon, with the latest federal data listing all 102 counties in as areas of high transmission — meaning they’re averaging more than 100 new daily cases per 100,000 residents.
And while cases and hospitalizations have begun to decline, COVID-19 deaths across Illinois remain at levels not seen in more than a year.
State health officials on Thursday reported 198 more fatalities, the most in a single day since Dec. 5, 2020, and the third-highest daily death toll of the entire pandemic. While that number could be inflated somewhat due to late reporting caused by Monday’s holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., the state over the past week has averaged 109 deaths per day, the highest seven-day average since the week ending Jan. 12, 2021.
Illinois has recorded 29,708 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
Statewide, 23,246 new confirmed and probable cases were reported Thursday, bringing the average number of new cases over the past week to 24,674. That’s down nearly 22% from a week earlier, when the state was averaging 31,495 cases per day. The official count does not include results from at-home rapid tests, which aren’t reported to the state.
The number of patients with COVID-19 in hospitals statewide dropped to 6,258 as of Wednesday night, bringing the seven-day average to 6,760. That’s down from an average of 7,213 per day a week earlier, a 6% decline.