A week after recommending stricter COVID-19 measures, the Cook County Department of Public Health mandated them on Thursday, Dec. 23.
The department announced in a press release Thursday that starting Jan. 3 county restaurants, bars, entertainment spaces and fitness facilities must require patrons aged 5 and older to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
“Earlier this year, we had hoped that we were on a path to finally put the pandemic behind us,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in the release. “But unfortunately, with the dual threat presented by the Delta and Omicron variants, and with cases, hospitalizations and deaths rising to new heights across Cook County, we must once again reassess and re-align our strategies with what the science is telling us.”
The county health department covers all of suburban Cook County, which includes New Trier Township communities Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, Kenilworth and Northfield.
County data shows that the county’s new-case rate is now over 500 cases per 100,000 population with a positivity rate of 7.8 percent. In New Trier Township, those numbers are 720 cases per 100,000 with positivity of 6.22 percent — a number that has doubled since Dec. 14 (3.11%)
The new order covers businesses that serve food or beverage, and all must record how they will comply with the order and display signage about the vaccination order, according to the release. The Cook County health department will reportedly post sample language on its website.
County officials said that digital copies of vaccination can be accepted as proof.
Employees of the covered businesses must be vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test on a weekly basis, according to the county’s mitigation order.
Individuals already covered by a medical exemption are excluded from the order if they provide proof of the exemption plus a negative COVID-19 test administered within 24 hours.
The order also excludes patrons entering a business for fewer than 10 minutes, visiting performing artists or athletes, and active voters.
The county said yoga studios, group fitness classes, recreation centers, general health clubs and dance studios are all included in the order, as are movie theaters, concert venues, live theaters and music spaces, sports arenas, bowling alleys and arcades.
Not covered by the order are places of worship, schools and child-care centers, offices complexes, and charitable food establishments, such as soup kitchens.
The mandate will be enforced by the county’s environmental health services unit, the same group that regulates business sanitation, said Dr. Rachel Rubin, the health department’s senior medical officer. Rubin said the unit will respond to complaints and work with the reported business and the associated municipality before any fines are assessed.
Across the county, 60 percent of eligible individuals are vaccinated. In New Trier communities, that number is more than 70 percent.
Preckwinkle said in a press conference that the spread of the omicron variant is “overwhelming us,” leading to the order. Rubin said the health department reviews data weekly to reevaluate its mandates.
“We are looking at metrics very closely and will be reevaluating this order on a weekly basis,” she said. “As President Preckwinkle alluded, we are seeing an incredible rise and peak of cases. We need to have these mitigations in place and our hospitals are being stretched very thin right now. We need to see improvements in those metrics.”
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