Chicago Eases Some COVID-19 Restrictions On Bars, Restaurants

Six months into the pandemic with ‘sufficient progress’ made against COVID-19, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot plans to loosen some restrictions on businesses beginning on Thursday.

Bars can once again serve customers inside and, along with restaurants, serve alcohol until 1 a.m. Some businesses, including restaurants and health and fitness centers, can expand capacity to 40%. Groups of kids who attend after-school programs can get a little bigger, and facials and shaves can resume.

Lightfoot announced the changes in a statement on Monday, saying they are possible because the city has improved several key metrics that government and public health leaders use to guide how much or little to restrict to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The move also comes as businesses already devastated by the coronavirus prepare for what they fear could be a brutal fall and winter if even more sales dry up.

“Over the past six months, we have asked so much of our business community. But each time, our businesses have stepped up to the plate,” Lightfoot said in the statement. “Thanks to this cooperation, we have met this challenging moment with grace, commitment and resilience, and the sacrifices made by our businesses, workers and residents have saved countless lives. This next step in our reopening is good news for business owners as well as the communities they serve and the thousands of residents that work for them.”

Lightfoot is also expected to announce at a news conference Monday further guidance about how to celebrate Halloween safely.

Here’s what’s driving Lightfoot’s decision to ease up restrictions on businesses: Chicago has the lowest rates of people hospitalized for the virus or dying of it in months, with an average of two to three deaths per day compared to about 50 a day during the peak of the pandemic this spring, the city said. The so-called positivity rate for the percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19 is 4.5%.

COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect Black and Latino communities, Lightfoot’s statement said, adding that Chicago officials will watch trends closely, especially among essential workers and people of color.

Here are more details about some of the restrictions City Hall plans to loosen:

  • Restaurants, health and fitness centers, personal services, nonessential retail and other businesses that were limited to 25% indoor capacity can increase that to 40%. Businesses still will be limited to a total of 50 customers within one room or space at restaurants and other venues, as well as no more than six people per table. Restaurant customers have to wear a mask at all times inside, except when “actively” eating and drinking.
  • Breweries, taverns, bars and other businesses that serve alcohol without a food license can reopen with indoor seating at 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer. Customers still can only stay for up to two hours, and bars without food have to make food available, such as handing out menus or partnering with other food establishments. Customers have to be seated when eating, drinking or ordering. These businesses can sell alcohol until 1 a.m. The city wants restaurants and bars to get emails and phone numbers from patrons too, for possible contact tracing.
  • Businesses that sell alcohol to go, such as liquor and grocery stores, still only can only do so until 9 p.m.
  • Fitness and health classes, as well as after school programs, can increase group sizes from 10 to 15 people.
  • Facials, shaves and other services that require people to remove masks and other face coverings are allowed once again.

The city also announced a partnership with Tock to provide a free six-month subscription service to restaurants and bars in low-income areas that don’t have a reservation system. The system also would give businesses the ability to keep customers’ cell phone numbers and email addresses to follow up with should someone get the coronavirus.

“Overall, we are heading in the right direction, and this affords us an opportunity to further re-open the city and to do so gradually and safely,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in the statement. “But I can’t emphasize this enough: Chicagoans need to continue to follow the public health guidance — wearing masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home when sick — or we risk falling back and experiencing another rise in cases.”

Kristen Schorsch covers public health on WBEZ’s politics and government desk. Follow her @kschorsch.

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