As the number of coronavirus cases in Illinois nears triple digits, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Sunday ordered all Illinois bars and restaurants to close their dine-in operations at the end of the business day on Monday.
The Democratic governor two days ago announced his decision to close all schools in Illinois, starting Tuesday. But after an especially deadly weekend — 368 deaths in a 24-hour span in Italy — and after witnessing droves of St. Patrick’s Day revelers Saturday in Chicago, the governor decided to take more drastic steps.
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 29 new cases of coronavirus in Illinois, bringing the total to 93 cases in 13 counties.
“There are no easy decisions left to make as we address this unprecedented crisis. Every choice that we face, every choice now is hard. And it comes with real consequences for our residents,” Pritzker said. “But as your governor, I cannot let the gravity of these choices prevent us from taking the actions that the science and the experts say will keep people safe.”
Pritzker is ordering all bars and restaurants to close to the public at end of business day on Monday through March 30.
“We are working with restaurant owners and food delivery services across the state to see if restaurants can safely keep their kitchens open, so the restaurants can continue food delivery to people at their homes,” Pritzker said at a news conference.
The governor said drive-thru and curbside pickup for restaurants will still be allowed.
Pritzker acknowledged the toll the closings will have on the restaurant and bar industry, and for workers who may be laid off in the process.
“I know how difficult this will be on small businesses around the state,” Pritzker said. “But we must do everything that we can to safeguard the health and safety of our citizens of the state of Illinois. And that requires urgent action.”
Pritzker admonished the throngs of people who packed bars Saturday in Chicago, saying “it’s unfortunate that many people didn’t take that seriously.”
“The time for persuasion and public appeals is over. The time for action is here. This is not a joke. No one is immune to this, and you have an obligation to act in the best interests of all the people of this state.”
Joining Pritzker at the news conference was Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The city earlier on Sunday had capped occupancy of bars and restaurants cut at 100 people; now, that will be in effect only on Monday.
Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said the group was informed on Sunday afternoon about Pritzker’s decision. Toia said public safety is the No. 1 concern for the association, but it is working around the clock to address concerns from employees and employers affected by the shutdown.
“It is the No. 1 concern of the restauranteur to make sure his or her team members get their paycheck. That is very, very important,” Toia said.
Pritzker also urged people not to hoard food. He said his administration has talked to grocers of all sizes throughout the state and asked for advice on what would make it easier for them to get products back on their shelves. Both Pritzker and Lightfoot have asked for a prohibition on overnight grocery deliveries. And Pritzker has asked the federal government to change regulations to free up the flow of merchandise from warehouses to stores.
“We need the people of Illinois to help us here. So please, do not hoard food. Buy what you need, but please be reasonable. Think of your friends and your neighbors,” Pritzker said. “There is enough food to go around, but we need people to not be selfish.”
In light of Pritzker’s order, Chicago police will boost their presence at grocery stores across the city, according to police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
“We expect heavy crowds and heavy traffic and we want to make sure officers are on hand to deal with any issues that may arise,” Guglielmi said. “It’s not because anything is wrong … but it’s an abundance of caution in case anyone needs some help.”
Cherl Sagil, a server at White Palace Grill, a 24-hour diner in the South Loop, said she worries the ban on dine-in service will take a toll.
“This will put a financial strain on us. We depend daily on our tip money in the server lifestyle,” Sagil said. “We need to know for our own mental well-being and economic stability that these wages will be compensated.”
Sagil said leading up to Pritzker’s unprecedented mandate, business at the White Palace Grill had already suffered amid coronavirus fears. Servers have lost about two-thirds of their business as people worried about catching the virus have avoided public spaces and large gatherings, she said, adding that her weekly tips already are down $200 to $250.
“I get they’re trying to prevent this virus from spreading, but without appropriate compensation, we could still be putting people in jeopardy,” Sagil said.
A manager at another South Loop restaurant, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid reprimand, said her entire staff was freaking out. They could probably offer carry-out, she said, but everyone will take a hit.
“I get that it’s a national disaster, but my servers depend on tips to survive,” she said. “As the state shuts everything down, what about their bills?”
She appreciated the measures Pritzker has taken to ensure financial relief, but she and her staff are still “very anxious about their livelihoods.”
A Boystown restaurant manager said the restaurant already had been considering closing temporarily amid the pandemic. It was packed Saturday as St. Patrick’s Day partiers came out in droves to Boystown, as they did in River North and Wrigleyville.
The manager favored shutting down “because the virus could spread so easily in places like restaurants. I’m glad we’re not waiting until an employee tests positive and it’s too late.”
The Illinois Board of Education has received federal waivers to distribute two meals a day to children who qualify for free and reduced lunch statewide starting on Tuesday. Pritzker said all Chicago Public Schools schools will distribute breakfast and lunch to any child under 18, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“You don’t have to go to your own school. And you don’t have to be qualified for free and reduced lunch,” Pritzker said. “CPS is giving food to any child who needs it. No questions asked.”
Lightfoot acknowledged what the closure would mean for a city that typically revels in its St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. This year, Lightfoot said, “it must be different, to save lives. I do not want to see hordes of people out in the streets. The bars will be shut. So please, stay home and be safe.”
Contributing: Sam Kelly