Pritzker stands by COVID-19 restaurant crackdown in Chicago as state adds 6,110 more cases

“That’s how the system works, and it works well region to region. So it will work well for the city of Chicago,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

SHARE Pritzker stands by COVID-19 restaurant crackdown in Chicago as state adds 6,110 more cases
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, center, tours the Pullman Community Center with Kristin Curtis, left, general manager of the facility, and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), right, on Wednesday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, center, tours the Pullman Community Center with Kristin Curtis, left, general manager of the facility, and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), right, on Wednesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Despite pushback from business owners and criticism from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, closing time is still coming Friday for Chicago restaurants’ indoor dining rooms.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker stood by his restaurant crackdown Wednesday as the latest wave of the “COVID storm” that’s sweeping Illinois brought more than 6,110 new COVID-19 infections, the second-highest daily tally of the pandemic.

“When you’re in a bar or restaurant, the fact that it’s a gathering place for many people from around a community, that’s a different situation than in a home, but nevertheless still a spreading location, and we want to be able to deal with that,” Pritzker said. “We want to cut off the virus from having the ability to transmit.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a tour of the Pullman Community Center on Wednesday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a tour of the Pullman Community Center on Wednesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Democratic governor released a resurgence plan in July outlining the potential “mitigations” such as indoor dining bans that his health team would slap on regions that cross the 8% testing positivity rate threshold for three consecutive days. They also go into effect when a region sees a week or more of increased hospital admissions and daily positivity increases, as was the case for Chicago. The city has since hit 8.1% positivity.

Now, mitigations will be in effect in eight of the state’s 11 regions by Saturday, including the entire Chicago area. The Lake-McHenry county region became the latest slapped with restrictions Wednesday due to its sustained 8% positivity rate.

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Lightfoot said she wasn’t asking for “special favors” for Chicago when she initially said she’d try to persuade Pritzker not to deal another devastating blow to the city’s foundering restaurant industry.

While Lightfoot said she won’t challenge the governor’s order, she maintained the biggest driver of Chicago’s second surge is the indoor gatherings people are having in their own homes, where they’re more inclined to let their guards down.

“We’ve got to … make sure that we communicate effectively to the businesses across Chicago that are gonna be affected,” Lightfoot said. “The most important point is how do we move forward. … We’ve committed to make sure that we continue to work together.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot discussed the ban on indoor dining in Chicago after a ceremony to cut the ribbon on a new Amazon facility in Pullman.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot discussed the ban on indoor dining in Chicago after a ceremony to cut the ribbon on a new Amazon facility in Pullman.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

House Republican Leader Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs went much further in slamming Pritzker’s measures, saying the restaurant industry has been “turned into the scapegoat” for the spread of the deadly virus.

“The restaurant owners and business owners are barely hanging on by a thread throughout the state, but especially in Chicago and the surrounding communities, because they’ve lost office workers on their lunch breaks, tourists enjoying a nice evening,” Durkin said. “People who have built their businesses for decades are watching them disintegrate right before their eyes, forced into a government mandated bankruptcy.”

Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington questioned why Pritzker moved “immediately to suspend indoor seating and dining” instead of lowering capacities at restaurants. Brady called on Pritzker to release the data driving his decision-making on the mitigations.

Pritzker — who has cited 12 studies including one from the federal Centers for Disease Control that suggests bars and restaurants can be viral super-spreading sites — noted that regions hit with mitigations over the summer improved their metrics to return to regular business, or as regular as it can be in the age of COVID-19.

“That’s how the system works, and it works well region to region. So it will work well for the city of Chicago,” Pritzker said.

With many establishments advertising their defiance of Pritzker’s shutdown order, Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said his troopers so far have received complaints in 37 counties and issued citations to bars and restaurants in five counties. Scofflaws can face fines up to $2,500.

“Compliance is always the goal — no more, no less. We know that patience is wearing thin,” Kelly said.

As positivity rates soar statewide, the entire state could be facing mitigations by next week.

Illinois’ latest 6,110 cases were confirmed among 70,752 tests, raising the statewide average positivity rate to a nearly five-month high of 6.7%.

Officials also attributed 51 more deaths to the virus, while Illinois hospitals are treating the most coronavirus patients they’ve seen since June 4, with 2,861 beds occupied.

Since March, about 7.5 million coronavirus tests have been administered in Illinois, with 389,095 people confirmed to carry the virus and 9,619 of those dying.

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