CHICAGO — City officials Tuesday said bars, restaurants and event venues can expand capacity to 40 percent effective immediately thanks to three straight days of new daily COVID-19 cases dropping under 400.
Large bars, restaurant and indoor events can’t exceed 50 people even if that is less than 40 percent of the building’s capacity. The city had previously imposed a 25 percent capacity limit, but eased the restrictions after key metrics dropped.
“In recent days, we have made incredible progress in the ongoing effort to save lives and defeat this deadly virus,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “I am thrilled that we have made enough headway to cautiously ease more regulations, but I once again want to remind all our businesses and residents that we are not out of the woods yet. Only by committing to what we know works will we be able to continue moving forward carefully and responsibly.”
Officials unveiled a “roadmap” to reopening last week that said they’d allow up to 40 percent capacity at bars and restaurants if the city sees three days in a row of being at “moderate” risk or lower. Just one metric held Chicago back from meeting that goal until Tuesday: its average cases diagnosed per day, which was considered “high risk” with more than 400 cases per day.
But Chicago reached that goal Tuesday, allowing for bars, restaurants and events to immediately increase capacity.
The city said other updates to business regulations would be considered once the city was at moderate risk level or lower for three days, though officials did not say what those would be.
If Chicago stays at moderate risk level or lower for two weeks, indoor service capacity will expand to 50 percent.
The industry has struggled throughout the pandemic, as officials and experts have said indoor dining and drinking at bars and restaurants are among the riskiest things to do as there’s more potential for COVID-19 to spread. But those struggles have been heightened during the winter, as indoor service was temporarily halted and business typically falls during the cold months.
And Chicago has imposed tighter restrictions on restaurants and bars than other parts of the state.
Restaurants and bars weren’t allowed to have indoor service at all after every part of the state was put under Tier 3 of the state’s mitigation plan Nov. 20. Gov. JB Pritzker started lifting those restrictions in mid-January.
Chicago moved into Phase 4 in late January, meaning the state had no capacity limits on restaurants and bars — but city officials have kept in place tighter restrictions.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot only allowed indoor service with the lesser of 25 people or 25 percent capacity. Officials expanded that somewhat last week, saying bars and restaurants could serve the lesser of 50 people or 25 percent capacity.
Even as capacity expands, restaurants and bars do have other rules from the state and city: Tables must be kept 6 feet apart, for example.
The city’s roadmap to reopening relies on four metrics: average new confirmed cases per day, test positivity and COVID-19 patients in emergency department beds and intensive care unit beds.
The roadmap uses these metrics to guide changes:
• COVID cases diagnosed per day: This number must be below 400 new cases per day to reach the “moderate-risk” level. The city is currently averaging 344 new cases per day.
• COVID test positivity: The city is already in the “low-risk” level as it has a positivity rate of 3.6 percent as of Wednesday.
• Emergency department visits for COVID-like illness: The city is currently in the “moderate-risk” level as it has an average of 62 per day.
• ICU beds occupied by people with COVID: The city is currently in the “moderate-risk” level as it has an average of 117 per day.
Cook County will follow the same reopening plan, according to the city’s news release.
You can read more about Chicago’s reopening plan online.