How many Chicago police officers are vaccinated against Covid-19?
The question has a definite answer. But no one seems able to put a number on it.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office, the police department, and the Chicago Department of Public Health could not provide Injustice Watch with an updated number of vaccinated police officers for this story.
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“We’re not keeping tabs on it at this moment; we don’t have a number,” said Chicago Police Department spokesman Don Terry in an interview.
The last reported number came in early May. Local NPR affiliate WBEZ reported then that less than 3,600 officers out of more than 12,000 had gotten at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at city-run vaccination sites, while the Washington Post placed the number at “at least 4,000,” citing city officials.
Lightfoot recently ordered all city employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15. Andrew Buchanan, a spokesperson for Lightfoot, said the city has not required its workers to self-report their vaccination status.
On Monday, Injustice Watch asked Lightfoot during a news conference at a high school in West Englewood whether she was concerned that her administration was unable to provide our reporters with an updated figure on the number of vaccinated police officers.
“I can’t account for whatever your discussion was because obviously I wasn’t a part of it, but here’s what I do know: We need to have all city employees vaccinated,” she said.
Chicago police officers are required to wear a surgical mask or face covering whenever they’re unable to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from another person, according to the department’s personnel directives.
But unvaccinated police officers put the public at risk because they’re constantly in contact with people, making them likely to contract the virus and likely to spread it, said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University.
Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate is “essential” and will force the city to keep consistent data, he said.
Confirmed Covid-19 cases increased sharply between June and August. But the coming months could spell even more trouble, as people begin to head indoors to avoid the cold, Murphy said.
“It’s not supposed to be so big in the summertime, and look what’s happening now. Most likely, when people congregate indoors, [cases are] going to be higher,” he said.
So far, about 3,400 sworn officers have tested positive, according to a police spokesperson. The latest city data shows that about 64% of residents age 12 and older are fully vaccinated.
There are signs across the country of police pushing back against calls for them to get the vaccine.
In Chicago, labor unions have also pushed back against the city worker vaccine requirement, especially police unions. John Catanzara, head of the Fraternal Order of Police’s Chicago lodge, is among the mandate’s fiercest critics. The FOP represents Chicago’s rank-and-file officers, which includes almost all the cops working for the city. Last week, Catanzara told the Chicago Sun-Times that thousands of officers would essentially walk off the job if they’re forced to get vaccinated. He also made controversial comments that many observers interpreted as him comparing the vaccine mandate to the Holocaust. Catanzara did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s unclear how the city plans to track the number of cops and other city employees who get vaccinated or punish employees who refuse the mandate. Southwest Side Ald. Ray Lopez (15th Ward), a vocal law enforcement supporter who often disagrees with Lightfoot’s policies, said verifying officers’ vaccination status could prove to be burdensome.
“Will [the mayor] require them to provide proof? Will she require them to self-report on an honor system? There’s a lot of open questions because I don’t think she necessarily thought the policy through,” Lopez said. At Monday’s news conference, Lightfoot said she expects city workers to show “affirmative proof” that they’ve been fully vaccinated by the October deadline.
West Side Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th Ward), the city council’s education and child development committee chair and a public safety committee member, said all city employees should get vaccinated as soon as possible — especially those who, like police, frequently interact with the public.
“If you’re there to protect and serve, this is a part of protecting and serving,” he said.