Pritzker will allow bars and restaurants to open sooner than planned — but not yet

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said indoor service can resume when regions improve to Tier 1 mitigations. Chicago isn’t there yet.

SHARE Pritzker will allow bars and restaurants to open sooner than planned — but not yet
An employee adds sauce and peppers and cheese to tamale dough at restaurant Tamale Guy at 2018 W. Chicago Avenue in Ukrainian Village last year during the coronavirus shutdown.

An employee adds sauce and peppers and cheese to tamale dough at restaurant Tamale Guy in Ukrainian Village last year during the coronavirus shutdown.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Illinois’ cash-starved bars and restaurants will be allowed to welcome customers inside sooner than originally ordered by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, but that reopening is still a ways off for Chicago.

The Democratic governor announced Friday that limited indoor service will be allowed for regions of the state that see their COVID-19 metrics improve enough to move down to the state’s Tier 1 mitigation level.

That’s a shift from the original plan laid out by Pritzker’s health team, which would’ve required regions to improve even further to return to the state’s Phase 4 of reopening.

Still, most of the state’s 11 regions remain in Tier 3, including Chicago and its suburbs.

Pritzker’s layers of tiers and mitigations have caused confusion for the thousands of establishments that have seen revenue dry up since the governor shuttered indoor service statewide in November in an effort to stem a record-breaking COVID-19 resurgence.

As the state’s numbers have improved over the last month — and as many business owners have openly flouted Pritzker’s order — the governor eased up slightly on the requirements amid urgent calls for reopening from hospitality industry leaders and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Pritzker said Friday that three regions — the northern, north-central and southern portions of the state — have improved enough to get to Tier 2, which allows for greater retail store capacity and for larger venues like museums and casinos to reopen at limited capacity. Indoor fitness classes will also be allowed.

Other parts of the state, including Chicago, are on pace to get to Tier 2 “in the coming days,” Pritzker said.

Regions need to see further improvements in positivity rate and hospital bed availability to improve to Tier 1, but Pritzker said most regions “are making good progress” in that direction.

Once they get to Tier 1, the governor will allow bars and restaurants to reopen to indoor service at the lesser of 25 people or 25% of capacity for each room, as long as social distancing guidelines are followed.

To get to Tier 1, regions will need to get their average testing positivity rate below 8% for three consecutive days; have at least 20% of intensive care hospital beds available for three consecutive days; and avoid an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations for seven out of 10 days.

Chicago is at 9.5% positivity but has been trending steadily downward so far this year.

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said his group was “appreciative” of Pritzker’s move to hasten reopening but said it “falls short of the restaurant industry’s critical needs and expectations.”

“No restaurant can break even at that volume [of 25% capacity], let alone hire back their team members,” Toia said in a statement. “For the sake of the nearly 100,000 restaurant industry workers who lost their jobs between February and November, we urge the state to revisit this strategy and place more faith in the industry that for so long has served as Illinois’ largest private-sector employer.”

Bars and restaurants will be able to increase capacity if regions improve further to Phase 4. The state won’t fully reopen (Phase 5) until coronavirus vaccine doses are widely available, which is still at least several months away.

“There is no 21st century pandemic playbook, but it’s always been my goal to balance supporting our hospital systems with supporting economic vitality and strong recovery,” Pritzker said.

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