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Lightfoot Trying To Stop State From Putting New Coronavirus Restrictions On Bars, Restaurants

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the restrictions will hurt businesses that are "hanging on by a thread." But it's almost certain they'll still be imposed starting Friday.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a press conference announcing a statewide stay-in-place order Friday, March 20. Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks in the background.
Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’s trying to get Gov. JB Pritzker to remove the state’s new ban on indoor dining and drinking in Chicago.

Pritzker announced the restrictions — which also include a lower limit on gathering sizes and more rules for bars and restaurants — Tuesday, saying they are needed to slow the spread of coronavirus in Chicago. Cases have surged in the city, and Chicago’s COVID-19-related hospitalizations and its positivity rate are climbing.

But Lightfoot, speaking during a Tuesday night appearance on “PBS NewsHour,” said she has asked Pritzker to reverse course to save businesses.

“If the governor’s order goes into effect, it’s shutting down a significant portion of our economy at a time when those same businesses are hanging on by a thread,” she said.

Lightfoot’s comments came only hours after Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said the city’s officials would respect Pritzker’s decision to impose tighter restrictions on Chicago.

But Lightfoot’s request is highly unlikely to be met, which the mayor herself acknowledged.

Since Pritzker’s office plans to continue with the restrictions, they’ll go into effect Friday morning. Even more stringent rules could be imposed if the city’s COVID-19 outbreak continues to worsen.

The same rules have been applied in suburban Cook County and in counties across the state that have also seen coronavirus surges.

Business owners who try to defy the restrictions can be given warnings by police. If they still don’t listen, officers can give dispersal orders and cite owners. Businesses that still don’t comply can have their licenses revoked.

Lightfoot has previously said bars are among the riskiest places when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 because people take off their masks and, after becoming intoxicated, don’t necessarily follow safety guidelines like staying 6 feet apart.

But the mayor and Pritzker have been at odds recently over bars and restaurants and what restrictions they should face.

Early last week, Lightfoot announced Chicago is in the midst of a second wave of COVID-19. She and Arwady said bars and restaurants have largely followed the city’s safety guidelines to prevent spread of COVID-19, and they said most of Chicago’s new cases are coming from small gatherings between family and friends at home.

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Just hours later, Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said bars have been among the most common places where Illinoisans with coronavirus think they might have been exposed. Pritzker’s since emphasized “bars and restaurants are spreading locations, significant spreading locations.”

Experts have also said people who are indoors at a bar are at much more risk of spreading coronavirus.

By the end of the week, Lightfoot had created a 10 p.m. curfew for non-essential businesses, including bars and restaurants; banned bars that don’t serve food from letting customers drink inside; and said liquor sales must end by 9 p.m. across the city.

But when adding those rules, Lightfoot again said Chicago’s new cases are coming primarily from social gatherings “not specific to restaurants,” but officials wanted to limit any possibility for gathering “in areas where the risk is greatest, and that’s bars … .”

The state’s restrictions are not meant to hurt businesses and are only implemented to save people’s lives and prevent more people from becoming sick, Pritzker has previously said.

Pritzker and Lightfoot 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.”

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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