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Indoor Bar Service Without Food Banned Starting Friday As City Starts ‘Retightening’ Coronavirus Restrictions

Bars, taverns and breweries without food menus will no longer be able to serve customers indoors, but patio service is still permitted.

Maurice Nix, a 25-year regular at The Green Mill, visits the bar on the first day of Phase Four of reopening on Friday, June 26.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Starting Friday, bars and breweries without a food license can no longer serve customers indoors, the Mayor’s Office announced Monday.

The new restrictions come just weeks after Chicago moved to Phase 4 of the coronavirus recovery plan, which allowed indoor dining and drinking at limited capacity.

But the average number of new cases per day is on the rise in Chicago, with the increase driven by people age 18-29, officials have said. Hoping to cut back on the rise in new cases, officials said they’re trying to limit opportunities for young people to gather and transmit the virus.

Indoor bars are “known to be one of the higher-risk scenarios” for transmitting coronavirus, hence the new restrictions, said Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, during a call with reporters Monday.

That’s because being indoors has a higher risk for transmitting COVID-19 than being outdoors, bars attract younger people, indoor bars make it harder to social distance, people drinking aren’t able to wear masks, and bars are loud, meaning people have to raise their voices to talk, Arwady said.

New rules for bars and restaurants starting Friday morning:

  • Bars, taverns, breweries and other establishments that serve alcohol for on-site consumption without a Retail Food license will no longer be able to serve customers indoors.
    • Restaurants that serve alcohol will be allowed to continue to operate as long as they abide by ongoing COVID-19 guidance and existing regulations.
    • Establishments without food may still provide outdoor service as they did under phase three.
  • Maximum party size and table occupancy at restaurants, bars, taverns and breweries will be reduced to six people.

Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said this is “terrible news” for the industry and urged people to follow public health guidelines to prevent the bad situation from getting worse.

“Sliding backwards in our phasing is terrible news for bars that have started to reopen indoors and are trying to stay afloat,” Toia said. “While bars with outdoor seating may continue to operate — and restaurants can still provide both al fresco and dine-in experiences — it is more critical than ever that all operators, their employees and guests adhere to the guidelines established by leading health experts.”

Toia said social distancing and wearing masks properly is the way to move the city forward — and to help an industry “devastated” by COVID-19.

The city is also cracking down on personal services and gyms. The city made those restrictions based on where they’re seeing coronavirus spread, Arwady said.

New restrictions starting Friday for other industries:

  • Indoor fitness class size will be reduced to a maximum of 10 people.
  • Personal services requiring the removal of face coverings will no longer be permitted (shaves, facials, etc.).
  • Residential property managers will be asked to limit guest entry to five per unit to avoid indoor gatherings and parties.

What’s also been problematic is younger people gathering with friends. Arwady said younger people with coronavirus are more likely to report gathering with people who aren’t part of their household.

“We’re seeing … people are one day hanging out with a group of five to 10 people and the next day a different group of five to 10 people … and throughout all of that you’re bringing that risk potential back” into your household, Arwady said.

Most transmission is happening in “more private settings, and that’s because people feel safe,” Arwady said. But people should not be having close interactions with dozens of people “day after day after day,” because you put everyone at risk for catching and transmitting COVID-19.

Last week, Arwady said she expected the city would have to roll back some reopening protocols as cases climbed.

For weeks, the city was seeing fewer than 200 new cases per day on average, putting it in a moderate-high incidence category as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But as of Monday, Chicago’s seeing an average of 233 new cases per day and is back in the high-incidence of coronavirus category, and its positivity rate is at 5 percent.

“For all of those reasons, we felt strongly that it was necessary to work to take some focused actions now,” Arwady said. “The goal, of course, is to take focused actions now that are able to keep us from having to take the very large steps backwards that we want to avoid at all costs … .”

The numbers are “not a cause for alarm,” and the increase is not as bad in Chicago as it has been elsewhere in the country. But the city should take “serious steps now while we can still get our arms around this increase,” Arwady said.

Arwady said people can help prevent the spread of coronavirus by wearing masks, practicing social distancing and not gathering with people.

The city could once again loosen restrictions if the average number of new cases goes down, Arwady said.

“I hope next week we’ll be able to show that things have stabilized or perhaps started to decrease,” Arwady said.

The city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection will host webinars this week to update businesses on the new restrictions starting Wednesday. Sign up here.

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