Bars, restaurants in Cook suburbs limited to outdoor service — as owners fight weather, and state battles ‘COVID storm on the rise’

The new guidelines were announced by the governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health as the Chicago area experienced its first snowfall of the season.

SHARE Bars, restaurants in Cook suburbs limited to outdoor service — as owners fight weather, and state battles ‘COVID storm on the rise’
A man walks near the Thompson Center at West Randolph and North Clark streets in the Loop as the first snowfall of the season hits Chicago, Monday morning.

A man walks near the Thompson Center at West Randolph and North Clark streets in the Loop as the first snowfall of the season hits Chicago, Monday morning.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Just hours after the first snow flurries fell on the Chicago area Monday, restaurateurs and bar owners in suburban Cook County were told they’ll soon be limited to serving customers outdoors.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the new restrictions in the suburbs and in the downstate Metro East area are necessary to curb a spread of the coronavirus in those areas as the state logged 4,729 new COVID-19 cases and saw 2,638 people hospitalized.

“There seems to be a COVID storm on the rise,” Pritzker said.

But the food and beverage industry is worried about other storm clouds on the horizon.

“We’re moving into mid- to late fall now, and snow, as we saw outside today, so outdoor dining, even though we did have this winter design challenge … that’s not ... going to really help us,” said Sam Toia, the president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association.

Under the new restrictions, which take effect Wednesday, bars and restaurants in the Cook County suburbs and Metro East will no longer be allowed to serve customers indoors. In addition, outdoor service will end at 11 p.m., and meetings, social events and other gatherings will be limited to 25 guests or 25% of overall room capacity in Region 10, which is suburban Cook County, and in Region 4, which is Metro East, the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri.

Patrons eat, work and socialize at Cupitol Coffee & Eatery in Evanston, Monday, in a dining room that will soon be off-limits because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Patrons eat, work and socialize at Cupitol Coffee & Eatery in Evanston, Monday, in a dining room that will soon be off-limits because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The state imposed similar restrictions Friday on bars and restaurants in DuPage, Kane, Kankakee and Will counties. And Chicago reimposed a ban on indoor service in bars and a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for restaurants and other non-essential businesses.

The new guidelines were announced by the governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health as the Chicago area experienced its first snowfall of the season. A mix of snow and light precipitation moved through the area between 4 and 6 a.m., with another light wave hitting in late morning and early afternoon.

Different health metrics triggered the latest crackdown on restaurants and bars.

A woman crosses the street at West Randolph and North Clark streets in the Loop as the first snowfall of the season hits Chicago, Monday morning.

A woman crosses the street at West Randolph and North Clark streets in the Loop as the first snowfall of the season hits Chicago, Monday morning.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Suburban Cook County saw eight consecutive days of increases in COVID-19 test positivity and seven days of increased hospital admissions, making it the first region in the state to meet the metrics for additional mitigations in this way, surpassing warning levels in two categories simultaneously, the governor’s office said in a statement.

Metro East has had a seven-day rolling average test positivity rate of 8% or above for three consecutive days.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the two regions are also seeing a “steady increase in hospitalizations,” which could overwhelm the state’s hospitals.

“We are entering flu season, and our hospitals are facing both COVID-19 and flu admissions,” Ezike said in a statement. “The same things that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 will help prevent the spread of flu. Please, wash your hands, watch your distance, and wear your mask. And make sure to get your flu shot.”

Toia said the restaurant association he heads doesn’t advocate that its members disobey the governor’s order, adding “we always want to hear what the doctors and scientists have to say,” but the measures “outlined today will result in the permanent closures of countless restaurants, eliminating thousands of jobs” and damaging communities.

“We’d rather see, as we move backwards, maybe to 25% capacity instead of going from 50% capacity — basically social distancing — to zero.”

Joe Aurelio, president and CEO of Aurelio’s Pizza, said the state’s ban on indoor dining will affect two-thirds of its restaurants, including its Homewood location.

At that south suburban location there are usually around 150 employees working. When the dining room shuts down, Aurelio’s will likely lay off around 80 people, including waitstaff and bartenders.

“We can only do this so many times, and then eventually you’re not going to have any staff to work in your dining rooms,” Aurelio said. “It’s going to be like that for the whole industry, all the restaurants and hotels … a bunch of us are going to fail.”

During the first shutdown, Lenice Levy, owner of Good To Go Jamaican restaurant in Evanston, let go three-fourths of her 16-member staff.

Good To Go Jamaican Cuisine & Event Space owner Lenice Levy poses for a portrait inside her restaurant in Evanston, Monday.

Good To Go Jamaican Cuisine & Event Space owner Lenice Levy poses for a portrait inside her restaurant in Evanston, Monday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

After working to rebuild her staff by cutting different expenses, she’s now afraid she’ll have to let her workers go once again, this time in the middle of holiday season.

“I’m devastated. It’s like we took two steps forward and then ten steps back, and this is the worst time of the year,” Levy said.

Six of the state’s 11 regions are now operating under state mitigations to curb the resurgence of the virus, Pritzker said Monday.

The latest 4,729 COVID-19 cases brought the state’s total to 378,985 since the pandemic began. It’s the first time the state’s the seven-day case average has exceeded 4,500.

Of the 2,638 people were hospitalized Sunday night, 589 patients were in the intensive care unit, and 238 people were on ventilators.

An additional 17 deaths were also reported Monday, bringing the state’s death toll to 9,522.

Aurelio said while he’s going to “fight tooth and nail” to keep his long-standing family business afloat, he is frustrated that restaurants and bars are the ones being targeted for the spread of the virus.

“If you go to a Costco and a Walmart, there’s 500 people walking around, touching things — different carts, touching products on the walls. I don’t know how you justify that a restaurant and a bar is so dangerous,” he said. “How do you pinpoint us? That’s the hard part to swallow.”

The Latest
Los planes incluyen un auditorio, viviendas, parques y espacios peatonales como parte de un proyecto de 10 años de duración que podría comenzar en 2025.
The ride was hosted by Envision Unlimited, a service provider for more than 4,500 people with developmental disabilities in Illinois. Participants included Envision’s members — adults with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities.
Between three and five computers were thought to have been stolen late Monday, sources said.
Una corte de apelaciones le pidió a un juez del Condado de Cook que reconsidere si Kimberlynn Bolaños era mentalmente capaz cuando se declaró culpable en 2016. En una audiencia el martes, el juez hizo arreglos para otra evaluación mental.
Fourth grader Arianna Curry and several other grade-schoolers gathered Wednesday morning to taste test potential school menu items at Arnold Mireles Academy in South Chicago.