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Closing streets for outdoor dining with safe social distancing? Sounds like a plan

There’s a growing consensus among the experts that the risks of contracting or spreading the coronavirus are acceptably low outdoors if precautions are taken.

An employee measures the distance between tables this month in a beer garden in Munich, Germany. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is considering a plan to close streets so that restaurants can spread out and offer safe, socially distanced outdoor dining.
Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images

We’re going outdoors.

We’re going to do it safely, respecting the rules of social distancing.

We’re going to avoid crowds and keep a healthy 6 feet or more from anybody we’re not living with, including friends. We’re not going to share food or forks or beverages if we have a picnic.

But we’re going outdoors — a whole lot more than we have been.

There’s a growing consensus among the experts that the risks of contracting or spreading the coronavirus are acceptably low outdoors if the proper precautions are taken. It’s safer than going back to the office or walking in a mall, and it’s a great deal safer than crowding into bars like people are doing in Wisconsin.

The challenge for government is to find creative ways to support our safe, socially distanced emergence from the cocoons of our homes. Along those lines, we’re intrigued by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s apparent plan to close streets so that restaurants can spread out.

As Fran Spielman of the Sun-Times reported on Saturday, Lightfoot signaled her intentions in a tweet on Friday, without getting into specifics.

“People are itching to get outside. Businesses are looking at creative ways to serve customers. The key is how we do it,” the mayor tweeted. “Stay tuned for some changes to our streets and sidewalks. Transportation is more than just cars. We’ll show how Chicago can be safer and easier to get around.”

Tables could be spaced at least 6 feet apart, and restaurant employees would, of course, have to wear masks. They might also be required to submit to daily temperature checks, as suggested in a phased-in restaurant reopening plan proposed by the Illinois Restaurant Association.

Tampa and Cincinnati already have closed streets for safe outdoor dining, and Connecticut will allow outdoor dining beginning on Wednesday, with tables set at least 6 feet apart. Chicago could do something similar.

The inescapable reality is that the pandemic is not about to end. Anybody clamoring for a lifting of all lockdown restrictions is trying to jump the gun. A safely cautious response to the pandemic is not some liberal plot. We strongly continue to support Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders.

But for this same reason — because Americans may be living and working in a world being afflicted by COVID-19 for a long time — governors, mayors and other leaders need to get creative about reopening the country wherever possible in ways that are safe.

In Chicago, that might include safe, socially distanced outdoor dining, provided this rain ever lets up.

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