Local aldermen concerned new health order could hurt businesses
by JASON MEREL
Three Northwest Side aldermen said they understand why the city will require people to show proof of vaccination in order to dine at restaurants and bars and visit other indoor public places beginning Jan. 3, but the requirement will be difficult to enforce and could hurt businesses already impacted by the pandemic.
Last week Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a new health order from the Chicago Department of Public Health that will require anyone age 5 and older to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to stay at any business that serves food indoors or to enter fitness, entertainment or recreation businesses.
Businesses have until Jan. 3 to post visible signage explaining the order both outside and inside the business, develop their own plan for enforcing the order and train their staff.
“What they ought to do is educate people about wearing masks properly,” Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) said. “If you’re worried about it, you could stay home. I think it’s wrong to put this burden on the restaurants, which are already understaffed and overwhelmed.”
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) questioned the timing of the order.
“If it is so important, why did the city wait until Jan. 3 (for its implementation),” Napolitano said.
Businesses that are repeatedly found in violation of the order face possible closure and business owners could potentially be arrested. However, in a press conference announcing the order, Lightfoot emphasized that the city would try to work with businesses to gain compliance rather than seeking punitive measures.
Sposato said city officials told him that it was going to be a complaint-based system and there was going to be zero enforcement until a business accumulated three complaints.
Alderman James Gardiner (45th) and Sposato said that enforcing the order could be complicated because several agencies could enforce it. The order may be enforced by the commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, the commissioner of the Department of Buildings or the Chicago Police Department, as well as the commissioner of Department of Public Health.
Sposato said his ward office has received calls from concerned business owners.
“A lot of people feel it’s ‘Big Brother’ and none of their (city government’s) business,” Sposato said.
“If you’re a business owner and people are coming into your business, are you going to want to turn them away?” Gardiner said. “It’s not like BACP is watching video of all these people going into businesses.”
He said he understands the value of getting people vaccinated and the 45th Ward office has been hosting vaccination clinics but he’s concerned the order may negatively impact businesses trying to recover.
“Does it deter people from entering or only sitting down?” Gardiner said, pointing to exceptions within the order. “Will people be less willing to go to these businesses?”
“I think this is more bark than bite but the last thing I want to do is add more challenges to our local businesses,” Gardiner said. “They need everything possible to help them grow.”
Sposato said he was glad to hear Cook County was putting a similar order in effect so businesses in his ward near the edge of the city won’t have to worry about losing business to the surrounding suburbs.
However, he’s already heard that several of those municipalities aren’t planning to enforce the county order locally and plan to challenge it.
Sposato said that practically speaking, it’s going to be hard for some businesses to fully conform. He said he recently went to eat at a restaurant that’s been located in the 38th Ward for decades. He said the restaurant is experiencing staffing shortages and the staff that day included a server, a cook, a bartender and presumably a manager.
“There was no host so we were greeted and sat by the waitress,” he said. “Is she supposed to be checking vaccination cards now too and how will that affect her tips?”
Ultimately, despite their concerns, none of the aldermen expected their fellow city alderpersons to vote to overturn the order.
“Don’t forget though, that the Northwest Side is much more right-leaning,” Sposato said. “We’d need 34 votes to overturn it but we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting that many votes with this council.”