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Some suburban mayors leave vaccine mandate compliance to Cook County: ‘It’s not up to us to enforce’
Pioneer Press

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

by Jennifer Johnson

 

Pharmacist Kera Ross prepares a syringe with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine clinic in Niles on Nov. 20, 2021.
Pharmacist Kera Ross prepares a syringe with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine clinic in Niles on Nov. 20, 2021. (Victor Hilitski / Chicago Tribune)
To listen to this piece click here

Government officials in Park Ridge, Niles, Morton Grove and Lincolnwood say they will leave enforcement of the Cook County vaccine card mandate up to the county itself, though each municipality will be involved in communicating the new requirements to business owners.

“We will follow up if we get complaints,” said Niles Mayor George Alpogianis. “We will call (the business) and say, ‘Listen, there is a mandate out there.’ But it’s not up to us to enforce it and get them to do those things.”

The Cook County Department of Public Health order, which was instituted amid skyrocketing cases of COVID-19, requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination for customers ages 5 and over who patronize businesses where food and drinks are served, including restaurants, bars, theaters and other entertainment venues, as well as fitness centers.

The order, requiring the businesses to request this proof of vaccination, took effect on Jan. 3. According to a statement issued by the Cook County Department of Public Health, businesses found to be violating the order “will be subject to inspection and possible fines for violations.”

The village of Skokie has its own vaccination order that will begin Jan. 10. It is similar to the county’s order.

Alpogianis, himself a restaurant owner in Morton Grove, said he believes most businesses in Niles are opposed to the proof of vaccination mandate.

“I have not had one business saying the village needs to enforce this,” he said.

A letter to businesses from Morton Grove Mayor Dan DiMaria states that the county’s order will be “enforced by the Cook County Public Health Department; the village of Morton Grove is not required to enforce this order.”

Morton Grove officials will follow up with businesses if violations are reported and remind them of the county requirements, said Village Administrator Ralph Czerwinski.

“We will pass the information along and talk to the manager, indicating this is a county directive from the department of public health,” Czerwinski said. “This would be done either in person or by phone.”

In Park Ridge, a news release on the city’s website outlines the county’s requirements and advises residents to send complaints directly to the Cook County Department of Public Health’s website or report them at 708-633-4000.

“Our health officers will be out working with restaurants so they understand what is happening, but if people want to report violations, they can do that by reporting them to the county,” said Park Ridge Mayor Marty Maloney.

Cook County: Enforcement a challenge

Maloney said the limited feedback he received early this week has shown that some restaurants have no issue with the mandate, while “others are pushing back a little bit.”

Backlash against the mandate was swift on social media, with many followers of the city of Park Ridge’s Facebook page responding angrily to the city’s Dec. 27 informational post outlining the requirements under the Cook County Department of Public Health mandate.

Cook County County Commissioner Peter Silvestri, who represents portions of Park Ridge, Morton Grove and Niles, acknowledged that the county and its health department cannot check every suburban business to confirm compliance. Responding to complaints may also be challenging, he indicated.

“I think they will attempt to, but I don’t know how they will do it with the many businesses in our county,” Silvestri said. “It will be difficult to inspect and review every complaint that comes through.”

The effectiveness of the mandate will be based on how it is enforced, he said.

“I understand the science and the thinking behind the mandate, but any type of rule or law or statute has to be backed up by enforcement,” Silvestri said. “Otherwise it’s pretty useless.”

The commissioner on Monday said he expects some changes will be proposed for the mandate.

Lincolnwood Assistant Village Manager Chuck Meyer said the village, like the surrounding communities, has informed businesses of the county requirements, but local health inspectors will not be checking for compliance.

Police will only be involved if a disturbance results from customers who refuse to follow what the business is asking of them, Meyer said.

Park districts and fitness

The Park Ridge, Niles and Morton Grove park districts, meanwhile, have indicated they will follow the health department’s proof of vaccination mandate.

While proof will not be required for youth 18 years old and under who participate in recreational programs, participants ages 19 and over will need to provide this proof, according to the park districts.

The Park Ridge Park District on its website shared a list of indoor adult programs that will be exempt from vaccine verification, including a number of senior activities, dog obedience programs, a Wildwood Nature Center science program and Brickton art classes.

The Niles and Morton Grove Park Districts are requiring participants of fitness and adult programs to provide proof of vaccination at all indoor facilities.

“Only those who are fully vaccinated will be allowed entry to district facilities,” the Morton Grove Park District said in a statement on its website.

Masks are still required at indoor park district facilities.

The Lincolnwood Park District announced that the start of winter classes, initially scheduled for the week of Jan. 3, has been pushed back to Jan. 10 due to rising COVID-19 cases and the new county mandate.

The village of Skokie, which has its own health department separate from the county, also has a proof of vaccination order, which will take affect Jan. 10.

Like Cook County, the order, issued by the Skokie Health and Human Services Department, requires proof of vaccination for anyone five years and older who are customers of “indoor settings where food and drink are served for on-premises consumption, like restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, as well as in fitness facilities.”

“This new order is being instituted to protect the health of patrons and the employees of Skokie businesses,” said Health and Human Services Director Michael Charley in a statement on the village’s website.

 

 

 



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