As many as 130,000 employees — one-third of those sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic — could return to work under Phase 3 of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to slowly and safely reopen the Chicago economy, top mayoral aides said Wednesday.
Ten industry-specific groups, involving 200 people, developed guidelines that are at least as strong as those released by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and stronger in a few instances.
Chief among them is Lightfoot’s decision to limit nonessential retailers to 25% of normal capacity instead of 50%. The 25% cap would also apply to “common areas” in commercial office buildings.
“Chicago is a dense city. In many contexts, we believe the 25% capacity restriction is the right place to start,” said Samir Mayekar, deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development.
“Regardless of what capacity restrictions are, if consumers don’t feel safe, they won’t patronize the businesses. That’s why we’ve been very cautious. ... Some of the businesses that are coming online right now will start at 25% and then we’ll be reevaluating based on the health care metrics and they can dial that switch up.”
Michael Cornicelli, executive vice president of BOMA Chicago, added, “A 25% standard, for starters, is not unreasonable. ... It’s reflective — and appropriately so — of the density differences” in high-rise office space in downtown Chicago.
Barring a sudden spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, most of the state is on pace to graduate to Phase 3 beginning Friday, with outdoor dining, barber shops, hair and nail salons reopening for the first time in more than two months.
Chicago is on a somewhat slower timetable. Lightfoot has said she expects to relax her iron-fisted grip sometime in early June.
On Wednesday, top mayoral aides and industry trade groups held a nearly hourlong conference call with reporters to talk about the reopening that Lightfoot has likened to slowly turning the nob on a dimmer — not flipping a light switch.
BARBERS AND HAIR SALONS
Salon safety was paramount because clients “won’t come back” if they feel at risk, said Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president and general counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
“The emphasis on wearing face masks for sure. That’s gonna be required for everyone. But also not allowing services where you have to take that face mask off. … Barbers won’t be able to do beard trims, mustache trims. ... Make-up artists won’t be able to do a whole face of make-up. They’ll be able to do lashes. Something that doesn’t interfere with the mask,” Triche Dawood said.
“That was a tough conversation to have because that … is a challenge for them financially to not be able to offer all of the services that they’d like. But what was more important to them was that not only do people who work in the salons feel safe but that the clients feel safe as well. So they were willing to give on that. … We’ve also recommended that, when you’re shampooing, you have access to a face shield [or goggles] because you’re in such close contact with the person’s face.”
Triche Dawood also applauded the Lightfoot administration for pioneering what Mayekar called a “PPE marketplace” of local suppliers that will give retailers, manufacturers and other Chicago employers access to hand sanitizers, face coverings, plexiglass and other goods and materials needed to make their workplaces safe.
“Hat’s off to the city for putting this marketplace together because I heard a lot from salon owners who had trouble accessing PPE … at reasonable prices,” Triche Dawood said.
The guidelines require restaurant tables to be 6 feet apart with no more than six people at each table and no seasonings, condiments or straws on the table. But Lightfoot is working on plans to make outdoor dining more lucrative.
“Possibly closing some streets, some parking lots that are adjacent to restaurants. Maybe the bike lanes and the bus lanes,” Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said Wednesday.
Toia specifically mentioned 75th Street in Chatham, 26th Street in Little Village, and 53rd Street in Hyde Park as restaurant-laden commercial strips where outdoor dining could thrive if the city is flexible enough to grant permits.
“There’s some restaurants over there, but they don’t have outdoor seating. So we’re trying to work through that ... to make sure they get permits so they can have outdoor dining,” Toia said.
“Maybe you can use your neighbor’s [space] next door. If your neighbor is a dog hair place, maybe you can put tables in front of their place as well. We’re gonna try to get this so everyone in our 77 communities that want to participate in outdoor dining can do that.”
Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno talked about the new state law authorizing the sale of “cocktails-to-go.”
“The mayor is very much open to looking for local legislation that can allow for mixed drinks for pickup at these liquor-only locations,” Escareno said.
Noting bars have been closed while citywide liquor sales from packaged goods stores have been cut off at 9 p.m., Escareno said, “The mixed drink local solution could provide them additional relief and additional products they can actually sell and, hopefully, increase their profit margins.”
With social distancing mandates and most businesses limited to 50% of their normal capacity, rush-hour commuting is likely to change dramatically and be spread out over the course of the workday.
“If the goal is to … reduce transmission, there’s no magic bullet that’s gonna do that for every business all at once. You see restrictions here on the percentage of workers than can return. You’re seeing suggestions that they consider staggered hours,” Cornicelli said.
“Whether that is, some people start at 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock and leave accordingly. In other cases, half the work force is there Monday and Tuesday. The other half comes in on the two other days that week. And everybody works from home on Fridays.”
Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi talked about the possibility of lengthening CTA trains and adding more buses and bus rapid transit lanes to meet changing demand. She also expects the CTA to continue rear boarding, contactless payment, and disinfecting stations and vehicles several times a day.
“We just need to watch those trends really closely and build capacity,” she said.
OUTDOOR POOLS AND SPRAY PARKS
As much as summer and swimming go together, Chicago Park District Supt. Mike Kelly said reopening public pools and spray parks simply “really don’t jibe” with health care guidelines or “best practices” across the country.
“So unfortunately, the pools and the spray pools and the playgrounds all need to remain closed during Phase 3 of the reopen,” Kelly said.