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Fans allowed at Bulls, Blackhawks games as Chicago continues to ease restrictions

Restaurants and bars can increase indoor capacity to 50% or 100 people, whichever is less. The cap had been 50% or 50 people. Meetings, conferences and conventions held at large indoor venues like McCormick Place now can operate at 25% capacity or 250 people, whichever is less.

The United Center.
The Bulls and Blackhawks have been playing before empty stands at the United Center during the pandemic.
Sun-Times file

With two million vaccine doses administered and health metrics improving, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is reopening Chicago a little bit more — this time to let restaurants and theaters serve more patrons and allow fans inside the United Center for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s time for the Pier and the city to be open,” Lightfoot said during a celebratory news conference at Navy Pier.

“I’m thrilled to announce that we are able to broadly loosen capacity restrictions across industries starting today, which allows us to welcome back fans to the United Center, reopen Navy Pier and our lakefront beaches, bring back the Windy City Smokeout, our iconic country music and barbecue festival, as well as a number of summer street festivals.”

On the eve of Navy Pier’s phased reopening, president and CEO Marilynn Gardner declared: “Welcome to Navy Pier. I can’t tell you how great it feels to finally say those words.”

The new Phase Four rules, effective immediately, allow the Bulls and Blackhawks to close their seasons before roughly 5,250 fans per game — 25% of the United Center’s capacity.

The Blackhawks play at home Thursday, then have three regular-season home games left. The Bulls have a home game Friday, the first of six remaining regular-season games.

That 25% rule also applies to Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field and Soldier Field, an increase from the current 20%. Houses of worship also are at 25%.

Restaurants and bars can increase indoor capacity to 50% or 100 people, whichever is less. The cap had been 50% or 50 people.

Conferences and conventions at large indoor venues like McCormick Place now can operate at 25% capacity or 250 people, whichever is less.

Festivals and what the city calls “general admission outdoor spectator events” get the green light to welcome 15 people for every 1,000 square feet.

The same rules apply to flea markets, which can operate at 25% capacity.

Couples who have put off weddings also get a bit of a break. Effective immediately, fully-vaccinated guests who have waited 14 days since their second shot will not count toward capacity limits at weddings and other private events.

The catch: those weddings, graduation parties and other large gatherings must be private and held at a licensed business. Guests also must RSVP and business owners will be held responsible for verifying guests are fully vaccinated — and keep records to prove it.

“You want to have a bigger wedding, which we’ve been hearing from a lot of you about, make sure your guests get vaccinated and you can have a bigger wedding safely,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

“You want to see even more fans at the United Center and at your favorite sporting event soon? Getting vaccinated is how we’re going to keep turning that dial. ... If you want to travel with less hassle, get a vaccine. The travel order doesn’t apply to you. You don’t have to worry about quarantine. You don’t have to worry about getting tested.”

In announcing the latest changes at Navy Pier on Thursday — with celebratory music by a jazz band — Lightfoot thanked Chicago residents, employees and businesses for the sacrifices that made reopening possible.

Chicago’s test positivity rate dropped to 4.7% this week — the first time since March it dipped below 5%. That’s at the “lower-risk” level. Hospital capacity in both intensive care and non-intensive care beds remains in the “moderate-risk” category, despite a recent rise in cases, officials said.

“It’s a gross understatement to say that this past year has tested us all in unimaginable ways. But nonetheless, we all persisted because we had to. And even when times were tough and the end wasn’t nearly in sight. That persistence has been rewarded,” the mayor said.

If the health metrics remain stable or continue to decline for the next two weeks, Lightfoot said Chicago will “join the State of Illinois in moving to the Bridge Phase” of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan.

That will loosen the reins “across industries,” and expand operating hours for bars and restaurants.

New York City is targeting July 1 for a “100%” reopening.

When might Chicago join the Big Apple?

Lightfoot said she’s confident the city is “moving in that trajectory.” But, she’s determined to remain “cautious and data-driven” to avoid retrenchment.

“We’re on that path. But we’re gonna take this in smaller bite sizes to make sure we ... don’t see another surge that causes us to pause.”