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Chicago Could Soon Lose Indoor Restaurant, Bar Service If Coronavirus Numbers Keep Pace

Chicago, where cases and the positivity rate have skyrocketed in recent weeks, is well on its way to tripping the same metrics that have led to stricter rules in the suburbs and other parts of Illinois.

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CHICAGO — The city could soon face more restrictions, including the banning of indoor dining and drinking, to try to rein in the coronavirus surge here.

Starting Wednesday, six of Illinois’ 11 regions, including the suburbs in Cook County, will be under what Gov. JB Pritzker has dubbed “enhanced mitigations.” The mitigations include stopping indoor service, limiting gathering sizes and putting an 11 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants.

Chicago, where cases and the positivity rate have skyrocketed in recent weeks, is well on its way to tripping the same metrics that will lead to those stricter rules.

Officials will take action if they see an increase in a region’s seven-day average positivity rate for seven days out of 10, as well as one of these indicators:

  • A seven-day increase in hospital admissions for a coronavirus-like illness.
  • A reduction in hospital capacity that would threaten the area’s surge capabilities
  • Three consecutive days where a region averaged a positivity rate of 8 percent or higher.

Chicago is close to those marks: Its seven-day positivity rate was at 7.7 percent as of Monday, Pritzker said. And the city’s seen eight days of positivity increases and six days of hospital admission increases, according to the state.

Should Chicago be put under “enhanced mitigations,” it will likely face the same Tier 1 restrictions other regions have, though state officials could change them.

If the Tier 1 restrictions don’t lead to a drop in the surge in Chicago, more stringent rules could be imposed by the state.

The Tier 1 restrictions:

Bars

  • No indoor service.
  • All outside bar service closes at 11 p.m. 
  • All bar patrons should be seated at tables outside.
  • No ordering, seating or congregating at bar (bar stools should be removed).
  • Tables should be 6 feet apart.
  • No standing or congregating indoors or outdoors while waiting for a table or exiting.
  • No dancing or standing indoors.
  • Reservations required for each party.
  • No seating of multiple parties at one table.

Restaurants 

  • No indoor dining or bar service.
  • All outdoor dining closes at 11 p.m.
  • Outside dining tables should be 6 feet apart.
  • No standing or congregating indoors or outdoors while waiting for a table or exiting.
  • Reservations required for each party.
  • No seating of multiple parties at one table.

Meetings, Social Events, Gatherings 

  • Limit to lesser of 25 guests or 25 percent of overall room capacity.
  • No party buses.
  • Gaming and Casinos close at 11 p.m., are limited to 25 percent capacity, and follow mitigations for bars and restaurants, if applicable.

Some of those rules — or even stricter versions of them — have already been put in place by the city. For example, the city has stopped all liquor sales past 9 p.m. and has a 10 p.m. curfew for bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses.

And Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said the city could bring back its own Phase 3 restrictions even before Pritzker imposes the state’s stricter rules.

Under Chicago’s Phase 3, restaurants and bars were not allowed to have indoor seating; large venues, like movie theaters, performance venues, museums and zoos, were closed; and social gatherings were limited to 10 people or fewer; among other things.

The restrictions are not meant to hurt businesses and are only implemented to save people’s lives and prevent more people from becoming sick, Pritzker and Lightfoot have said. The two have faced criticism from some who say their policies are hurting the economy and businesses, while others have said they want even stricter rules imposed to keep people safe.

Pritzker has said he knows the pandemic and the safety rules have been hard for businesses — but they won’t have customers at all if people don’t feel safe going out.

“This virus is what’s causing an economic hardship on people, not just in Illinois but all across the nation,” Pritzker said at a Monday coronavirus briefing. “There is not a state that is thriving during this COVID-19 crisis. None. And we have to deal with COVID-19 before we truly get back on track to growing this economy.

“… We just have to step up and make sure we’re maintaining our health while we’re also making our economy keep going.”

All bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses were shut down in March, with only carryout and delivery available. That’s also when limits on gathering sizes were imposed.

The measures helped slow the virus’s spread and saved thousands of lives, experts have said.

The state and city have gradually reopened since a mid-May peak in cases, with indoor dining allowed again in late June.

But now, the city and state are in the midst of a second wave of COVID-19, officials have said. The state’s health director predicts 11,000 Illinoisans will be killed by COVID-19 by the end of 2020 if Illinois can’t get the outbreak under control.

“We’re seeing a national surge of coronavirus, and Illinois is not immune,” Pritzker said.

Officials have said the majority of new cases in Chicago are coming from people gathering in small groups with family and friends while not taking safety precautions. But bars and restaurants have also proven significant places of spread, they’ve said.

Officials are urging people in Chicago — and throughout Illinois — to wear masks, keep 6 feet from others, avoid gathering with people and wash their hands regularly to slow down the virus’s spread.

Lightfoot’s and the city’s health director have asked people to stop inviting anyone over, as well.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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