CHICAGO — Restaurants and bars should be reopened “as soon as possible,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday.
Indoor service at those businesses hasn’t been allowed for Chicago since October, as new cases, deaths and positivity rates spiked in the fall.
All of those metrics remain significantly higher than they were in the summer, when indoor drinking and dining was allowed. For example, Chicago is seeing an average of 13 COVID-19 deaths per day as of Thursday, compared to two or three deaths per day in the summer.
But the city has made progress since its fall surge, and Gov. JB Pritzker said the state will roll back some mitigations starting Friday.
But Chicago would need to have its restrictions rolled back to Phase 4 under the state’s rules for indoor service to return — and that’s unlikely since the city’s positivity rate is still above Phase 4 levels.
“I am very, very focused on getting our restaurants reopened,” Lightfoot said. “So that’s a conversation I will have with the governor.”
Lightfoot said she wants to get those businesses reopened “as quickly as possible” because restaurants are highly regulated for health and safety purposes, are regularly inspected and because they’ve gone “above and beyond” to put in mitigations to protect customers and staff.
“They are going to be one of the safer places,” Lightfoot said.
But Lightfoot said the ban on indoor service has resulted in people holding secret, underground parties in hotels and businesses. They don’t follow rules like wearing masks, she said, and that puts more people at risk for spreading COVID-19.
“If we have people and give them an outlet for entertainment … we have much more of an opportunity, in my view, to be able to regulate and control that environment,” Lightfoot said. “Let’s bring it out of the shadows. Let’s allow them to have some recreation in restaurants, in bars, where we can actually work with responsible owners and managers to regulate and protect people from COVID-19.
“I feel very strongly that we are very close to a point where we should be talking about opening up our bars and restaurants. … I’d like to see it as soon as possible.”
Restaurants have struggled significantly during the pandemic, with some closing completely or choosing to shut down during the winter in hopes of saving money.
The businesses were closed for all but takeout and delivery service in the spring, during the first wave of COVID-19.
Patio service was then allowed with regulations, and indoor service was OK’d in the summer. But Pritzker brought all regions of Illinois under Tier 3 mitigations, which ban indoor service, in early November as COVID-19 once again surged.
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