Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot aims to avoid shutdown

Mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot speaks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 88th Winter Meeting in Washington, January 23, 2020.

Joshua Roberts | Reuters

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said she wants to avoid imposing new lockdown measures as her administration grapples with the latest wave of Covid infections, but added she could not take that option “off the table” amid the omicron surge.

“Look, my goal is to make sure we never shut down again,” Lightfoot, a Democrat, said on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“It was devastating on our economy, on small-business people, on employees,” she said. “If we have to do that, certainly I’m not going to take that off the table, but my goal is that we never get to that place.”

Lightfoot’s remarks came on the same day that her city will start requiring proof of Covid vaccination for most residents to enter indoor spaces, such as restaurants, bars, gyms and other areas.

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The new rules are being imposed in response to “an alarming rise” in Covid cases due primarily to the highly transmissible omicron variant, Lightfoot’s office said late last month. That statement noted that Chicago’s requirements are similar to those already in place in other cities.

New York City’s proof-of-vaccination rules for customers spurred a legal challenge in August from a group of restaurants, but a judge threw the case out in September.

Vaccine mandates for workers in other states and cities have also been challenged in the courts. The Supreme Court has upheld vaccination rules imposed in New York, New Mexico, Maine and elsewhere. The high court will hear arguments Friday about the Biden administration’s push to impose a federal vaccine-or-test policy for companies with 100 or more workers.

Asked if she believed Chicago’s vaccine policy would prevent a spike in cases as seen in other parts of the U.S., Lightfoot said, “What I think it’s going to do is compel people to get vaccinated.”

“What we’re seeing is the overwhelming majority of people that are in non-ICU beds, ICU beds, and unfortunately who are dying are the unvaccinated,” she said. “It’s not even a close call.”

“So if we can get a significant percentage of people to get vaccinated because they want to take advantage of restaurants, bars, gyms and the like, we will have done a lot of good to save lives, and that is absolutely worth it.”

CNBC also asked Lightfoot about the possibility of once again halting in-person learning in order to dampen the spread of the virus. The mayor said schools will stay open and insisted that “fundamentally we know our schools are safe.”

Remote learning as a substitute for in-person instruction, implemented by school districts around the country during the earlier stages of the pandemic, had a “devastating effect” on children and families, Lightfoot said.

“Our schools are not the source of significant spread. The issue is community spread. But we need to keep our kids in schools, which is what we’re going to do in Chicago,” she said.

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