Meeting friends at a bar in the city this weekend, or to watch the Bears on Monday night?
Bundle up. You’ll be sitting outside — for the next two weeks, at least.
Chicago on Friday is reimposing restrictions on bars, restaurants and nonessential businesses, trying to stem a tide of rising COVID-19 cases, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday.
Bars are back to outdoor seating only — no drinking indoors.
Restaurants must close at 10 p.m. and cut off liquor sales at 9 p.m., including cocktails to go. No liquor sales after 9 p.m. at packaged goods stores, either.
Other non-essential businesses will be under a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
Essential businesses can remain open; that category includes groceries, hardware stores, pharmacies, laundromats, hospitals, gas stations and banks.
Lightfoot disclosed the rollback she threatened just three days ago during a wide-ranging interview Thursday with the Chicago Sun-Times.
The mayor acknowledged the tremendous hardship on restaurants and bars that are the lifeblood of Chicago neighborhoods.
“These are really, really tough things to do. Particularly recognizing how dramatically our hospitality industry — our restaurants, our bars, our hotels — have been deeply, profoundly impacted by the economic consequences of this COVID-19 shutdown,” she said.
But Lightfoot argued the “remarkable surge” in Chicago’s positivity rate — up from 4.6% just ten days ago to 7% on Thursday — gave her no other choice.
“I see no other way. If there was another way, we would choose it,” she said.
“The measures we’re taking today are the first prudent steps. But, I’ve got to be candid and say I would not be shocked if we have to go even further given this huge surge, the rate at which new cases are accelerating, the increase in hospitalizations and test positivity.”
At a news conference with the mayor later Thursday, city Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady warned that when that 7% positivity rate hits 8%, restaurants would close to indoor service.
Lightfoot urged all Chicagoans to “refrain from gatherings of more than six people as well as social gatherings of any sort after 10 p.m.” She also promised “decisive action, up to and including discipline” against Chicago Police officers and other city employees who interface with the public without face masks.
“Where they fail, the time for educating people into compliance is simply over. If you’re an officer. If you’re a fireman, a paramedic. If you’re a city employee, I’m telling you now as your mayor, as your boss, you must wear a mask. Period,” she said.
Earlier this week, Lightfoot and Arwady told reporters bars and restaurants were not the cause of Chicago’s “second surge.”
Why, then, ban bar service for a second time during the pandemic and force restaurants to close at 10 p.m.?
“You’ve got to look at the places where people are most vulnerable. That is, where are they not wearing masks? Bars is obviously top of the list from every study that I’ve seen from public health experts,” the mayor said.
“We’ve got to be bold and take that step back. I recognize that is a significant economic hardship on the bar owners themselves. But, these are places where people gather en masse without masks. That’s why it’s critically important that we take this step regarding bars and then rolling back hours of operations also for restaurants.”
Pat Doerr, managing director of the Hospitality Business Association of Chicago, said Lightfoot’s decision to reinstate the city’s ban on indoor bar service will have a devastating impact on an industry hanging on by a threat.
“This will immediately put tens of thousands of hospitality workers on unemployment — again — while their customers proceed to suburban bars. … It is not a great approach,” Doerr said.
“More consumers will have house parties [during] the Bears Monday night game. Heading into Halloween, there will fewer responsibly operated, regulated places able to accommodate customers. It’s hard to see any scientific basis how these restrictions will not lead to more house parties and many more visits to suburban bars that don’t have Chicago’s robust regulations over taverns and restaurants.”
Doerr acknowledged the recent surge in positivity rates in Chicago and the collar counties is “troubling,” adding, “I wish there had been more robust enforcement well before this in the suburbs and the city. One-day closures for flagrant violations simply weren’t enough to send a message to consumers.”
But, he said, “Now, yet again, we’re gonna close the places that were following the rules while the suburban alternatives remain wide open.”
Bruce Finkelman, managing partner of the 16 on Center hospitality collective, which includes Dusek’s, Moneygun, Pizza Friendly Pizza and Revival Food Hall, said they would comply with the new rules because “our first priority is the safety of our staff, customers and family. We want to make sure we’re doing our part to help put an end to this pandemic and will follow all protocols put out by our government and health officials. Our hope is by taking these precautions now, we can ensure that we will be able to open for the long haul in the weeks and months to come.”
Regulations on bars and restaurants have been imposed, relaxed and altered several times over the past several months:
• In mid-June, the city allowed bars to reopen to serving customers in open-air settings.
• On June 26, indoor customers were again allowed in restaurants and bars, with a limit on capacity.
• Regulations were tightened again in July.
• At the start of August, bars were allowed to serve customers outside if they had a “partner food establishment” their customers could order from.
• Then, at the start of October, restrictions were loosened in further, with higher capacity restrictions and drinking inside bars allowed.
Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said the 10 p.m. curfew will likely mean one less seating per night for Chicago restaurants that have already lost between 50% and 80% of their business during the pandemic.
“Usually, a restaurant stays open until 11 or 12 o’clock” at night. “And they get three seatings in. By going to 10 p.m., it’s definitely gonna jeopardize sales restaurants were getting between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.,” Toia said.
“I would rather take the curfew than zero percent capacity [indoors]. But, however I would rather have the curfew be 11 p.m. than 10 p.m.”
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurants, said he’s not surprised by the mayor’s decision to restore at least some of the rigid restrictions on business.
“Obviously, I’m dismayed. The economy is in just terrible shape — especially our tourism and hospitality-related industries. What I don’t see is a robust plan to keep these businesses alive,” said Tunney, whose North Side ward includes scores of bars and restaurants around Wrigley Field and in the entertainment districts along Clark and Halsted streets.
“I’m not gonna second-guess the mayor and the Health Department. As she has said earlier, we’re probably among the most open of big cities — obviously versus L.A. and New York. We’re gonna have to bear down and deal with the consequences. And a much more robust recovery plan has got to help these businesses because it’s not just their license fees. It’s their livelihood.”
Over the last two weeks alone, the number of daily cases in Chicago has climbed at the average rate of 508 per day. One day last week, nearly 800 positive tests were reported, the “largest one-day jump” since May 21, Lightfoot had said Monday.