☃️ Happy Wednesday! Yesterday we broke the record for no measurable snowfall this late into the season. Not good. Or for people who hate snow … hooray!

😎 Today's weather: Colder. Sunny with a high of 31. But still no snow.

Situational awareness: This is our last newsletter of 2021. We will return on Monday, January 3.

Today's newsletter is 830 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Bring vax cards to dinner

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Patrons will have to show proof of full vaccination to get into Chicago bars, restaurants, gyms and entertainment establishments that serve food or drinks starting Jan. 3.

Why it matters: More than a quarter of Chicagoans wouldn't currently qualify for entry under those rules. But at least one study shows the mandate could result in wider vaccination compliance.

The details: The rules apply to anyone over the age of 5, and anyone over 16 will need to show matching identification.

  • The rule does not apply to houses of worship, soup kitchens, K-12 schools or daycares, but does include private weddings at licensed venues with food.
  • The new rules do not impose capacity limits on venues.

Enforcement: At a Tuesday press conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said businesses will enforce the mandate as they do in other cities like New York City and Los Angeles.

  • "Our restaurants and other venues are asking us to do this," Lightfoot said. "Not all are going to be happy, but I think most of them understand the necessity and they're on board with enforcing it."

Penalties: Establishments could be fined $2,000 - $10,000 per violation.

  • "We usually first give them a notice to correct and we follow up the following day," Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) commissioner Kenneth Meyer said at the same press conference. "But if the business owner is not following any of these, we're going to write them up."

State of play: Chicago is seeing its highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate, intensive care usage and test positivity since January 2021, per health commissioner Allison Arwady.

  • Most of this, Arwady said, is due to the highly contagious Omicron variant, which now accounts for 73% of all U.S. cases "and in the Midwest, it's probably higher than that."

Zoom in: Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said Tuesday he expects CPS to reopen on schedule, Jan. 3, but will considering remote on a "granular level, school by school and classroom by classroom" based on cases.

  • He said he's counting on the help of families to get kids vaccinated and to use the 150,000 tests CPS sent home.

2. People are leaving Chicago for Denver, Dallas

Population change by state
Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Cartogram: Danielle Alberti/Axios

New Census numbers tell Chicagoans what we already knew: people are leaving the city.

Why it matters: Population loss can lead to higher tax burdens and less federal funding for schools and infrastructure.

Context: The Census looked at population loss between July 2020 and July 2021. The decline happened in big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Chicago.

  • The biggest gains happened in Idaho, Montana and Utah.

Big picture: According to data collected by LinkedIn, here are the top 10 places Chicagoans are flocking to.

Net migration rate out of Chicago
Reproduced from LinkedIn, Chart: Axios Visuals

3. Stories that changed Chicago

An empty lifeguard stand at North Avenue Beach in 2021. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Chicago journalism has driven new legislation, deeper investigations and the fresh scrutiny of public officials this year.

Why it matters: At a time when some try to dismiss the media as a single broken entity, it's important to highlight its concrete benefits to our community.

  • Here are just a few stories that changed Chicago in 2021.

The story: Block Club's Kelly Bauer reporting on officials at Loretto Hospital giving vaccinations to Trump Tower staffers as part of a program meant to help South and West Side communities.

The story: WBEZ's investigation by Dan Mihalopoulos of widespread claims of sexual harassment at the Chicago Park District .

The story: Chicago Reader's piece by Adam Rhodes questioning whether an Illinois law making it illegal to expose others to HIV was outdated at best, and racist and homophobic at worst.

📫 Reply and tell us which stories you think made the biggest impact.

4. Rise of Illinois homeschooling

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported that public school enrollment across the nation continues to decline.

Why it matters: This includes the loss of 10,000 students at Chicago Public Schools this year after losing 14,000 the previous school year.

  • Researchers told NPR that some parents are delaying pre-K and kindergarten enrollment, which saw a 13% drop last year.
  • But more are turning to charter schools, private schools and especially homeschooling.

Zoom in: Local homeschooling data is hard to pin down since Illinois is one of only 11 states to not require homeschooling families to register.

  • But national homeschool curriculum developers Time4learning tell us they added "548 new families in the Chicago area at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year."
  • "In the state of Illinois, Time4Learning saw 3,431 new student profiles created from August to October. For context, only 1,113 new profiles were created in 2019."

5. Thanks for joining us (in 2021)

Our first Axios Chicago photo over lunch at Calumet Fisheries in September 2021. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

It's hard to believe that it's only been 3 months since we started this newsletter.

  • It's been great to connect with you and we're excited to do more of it in 2022!

 🎄 Enjoy the holidays. Be safe. And look for us back in your inbox on Jan 3 — maybe sooner if we find something irresistible to tell you about in the meantime...

Our picks:

🤧 Monica reminds you to identify your nearest COVID testing and vaccination site and use it. Almost all their services should be free and walk-in at this point.

🦅 Justin is watching the series finale of "Hawkeye" and then the various YouTube breakdowns of the series finale of "Hawkeye." It's a whole thing.

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