Restaurants will be able to serve more customers indoors, and people can once again go drinking inside bars, under relaxed rules announced by the city on Monday.
Indoor seating at Chicago restaurants had been limited to 25% of capacity. When the new rules take effect at 5 a.m. Thursday, that will climb to 40%, though limits of six people per table, and 50 people per room, will remain.
Bars that serve alcohol but not food will again be able to serve customers indoors, but at 25% capacity, or a maximum of 50 people — whichever is fewer. Customers are limited to two hours, and must stay seated — no ordering at the bar is allowed.
“The restrictions we’re lifting today, we’re excited about because they mark progress. If we start to see things heading in the wrong direction, we may have to move backwards,” Chicago’s health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, said at a Monday news conference.
In announcing the changes, Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged “our businesses have been devastated by COVID-19” and she praised the “citywide cooperation” from businesses that kept Chicago from seeing “a huge rise in cases” as it slowly reopened.
The new 40% capacity rule also will apply to “health and fitness centers, personal services, non-essential retail and all other establishments” that, like restaurants, had been limited to 25%.
Bars will able to sell alcohol until 1 a.m. and stay open until 1:30 a.m. Liquor stores and grocery stores selling alcohol to-go, however, still must stop at 9 p.m.
Restaurants have been battered by the pandemic but have taken “every precaution” to protect diners and employees, said Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association. Eased restrictions “give struggling restaurants and bars a chance to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he added, urging the federal government to step up and help out the restaurant industry as it has helped the airlines.
Despite the eased restrictions, Chicagoans still must follow public health guidance, Arwady said. That includes “wearing masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home when sick — or we risk falling back and experiencing another rise in cases” according to a press release from the Mayor’s office.
“As you know we’re not below 200 cases per day. We are making decisions in a way that is careful and that will let us continue to move ahead,” Arwady said.
Other changes affect health and fitness classes and after- school programs; they will be allowed to increase from 10 to 15 people. And in salons and barber shops, facials, shaves and other personal services for which customers must remove their masks will be allowed, but employees must remain masked and complete the service in 15 minutes.
“We continue to see new cases and hospitalizations everyday. People are still dying from COVID-19,” Lightfoot said in announcing the easing of restrictions. “So we have to remain diligent and make sure we do everything that we can to respond to this horrible, horrible virus.”
Lightfoot said other rules also will be in place at restaurants, bars and other businesses:
• Diners stay masked except when actually eating or drinking.
“I know this requirement is a pain in the butt. Let’s just be blunt about it,” Lightfoot said. But “this is important to protect you and protect the server who comes to your table.”
Added Arwady: “There is still a lot of COVID in Chicago and the fact is ... we’ve not figured out a way to eat through a mask.”
• Bars that don’t serve food must work with a restaurant to make food available, such as by handing out menus and allowing delivery to the bar.
• Restaurants and bars should keep customers’ email addresses and/or phone numbers to allow contact tracing if needed.
• Hand sanitizer must be provided at the entrance.
Arwady said says the city’s positivity rate must stay below 5% to move forward in easing restrictions. For the last two weeks, the city has been at a 4.3% positivity rate.
The health department will track key indicators, and re-impose restrictions if needed, Arwady said.
“Now is the time to double down on the things you know work — not to relax.”
Illinois’ COVID death toll climbs by 13
llinois state health officials said Monday another 1,709 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 13 more deaths have been confirmed.
The cases were among 41,142 test results submitted to the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Illinois’ death toll has now reached 8,614. The state’s testing positivity rate remains at 3.7%, health officials said.
Contributing: David Struett