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Patio Season Is Back: Restaurants, Bars Can Offer Outdoor Seating Starting May 29, Pritzker Announces

Initially, bars and restaurants were not set to reopen until Phase 4 of the state's reopening plan.

Tai Nang's patio.
Alisa Hauser/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Restaurants and bars can reopen for outdoor seating as soon as May 29, Gov. JB Pritzker said Wednesday.

The announcement came after Pritzker said he consulted with public health officials about the risks for coronavirus transmission outdoors. Initially, bars and restaurants were not set to reopen until Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan.

Pritzker said he’ll work with mayors across the state to ensure bars and restaurants can get the permitting needed for additional outdoor seating.

Bars and restaurants “were some of the first and hardest-hit by this pandemic,” Pritzker said, and while indoor dining will not resume until Phase 4, he said outdoor seating will be permitted beginning May 29 — when Phase 3 of the reopening plan begins. No one is required to open, however — businesses can choose to stay closed if workers do not feel safe, and mayors can delay reopenings as well.

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“The epidemiologists now believe that summer offers us an opportunity if proper precautions are taken by businesses and their patrons,” he said. “We are, by no means, out of the woods. … But directionally, things are getting better. And because of these advances, we are able to make some modifications to allow more activity” during Phase 3.

Credit: Facebook
Spaced out patio seating at Twisted Tuna in Stuart, Florida.

While coronavirus transmissions can happen outdoors, the risk is much lower than it is indoors, recent studies show. In one study of 7,300 cases in China, only one case was connected to outdoor transmission, The New York Times reported.

Individual businesses will need to decide if they are able to serve patrons outdoors. Tables must be 6 feet apart and away from the sidewalks, masks and distancing measures for staff must continue to be followed, and other precautions and guidance will be issued, Pritzker said.

Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said people will be able to remove masks while eating, though they’ll need to put them back on when using the bathroom and leaving.

Toia said the patio announcement is a “glimmer of light” for an industry that has been badly hurt by coronavirus shutdowns. Statistics show 20 to 25 percent of restaurants might close for good due to the pandemic — and some already have, Toia said.

Outdoor dining will be a “benefit to many at a time when every dollar counts,” Toia said. “It won’t be a solution for everyone … but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Still, Toia said all restaurant owners are prioritizing the health and safety of their staffs and customers, and social distancing remains the No. 1 priority.

Toia encouraged local governments to consider closing streets, parking lots, bike lanes and bus lanes to traffic to allow restaurants to spread out tables, something other cities across the country are doing.

And Toia encouraged officials and residents to come up with other ways they can help restaurants with reopening.

“Let’s show how innovative Illinois can be,” he said.

Pritzker echoed that call, saying, “We’ve seen an incredible outpouring of creativity from every corner of the state throughout this crisis, and I have no doubt that Illinoisans will continue that spirit as we pave our way forward.”

Local municipalities can decide to delay Phase 3’s changes or implement stricter guidelines than the state’s if they believe it is unsafe for businesses to open, Pritzker said.

Read all of Block Club’s coverage on outdoor dining here.

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