Indoor service is officially back on tap for bars and restaurants in many of Chicago’s south suburbs — at least for those that weren’t already flouting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 business restrictions.
The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Thursday the Will-Kankakee county region improved to Tier 1 of the state’s mitigation plan. That allows customers to be served inside at bars and restaurants, limited to the lesser of 25% capacity or 25 people per room.
From mid-November until last weekend, indoor service had been banned in all 11 regions of the state — though many businesses openly defied Pritzker’s order — in an effort to stem a brutal resurgence in coronavirus cases.
But with most of the state’s infection numbers back down to their lowest levels in three months, Pritzker has allowed regions to begin easing some restrictions if they meet his COVID-19 hospitalization and positivity benchmarks.
Thursday’s reopening came as health officials reported 4,979 new cases of the disease detected from among 99,036 tests, which lowered the statewide average positivity rate over the last week to 5.4%. That key indicator is as low as it’s been since late October, as is the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients (3,281).
The state also announced another 123 deaths attributed to COVID-19, well above the state’s average of 85 deaths per day over the last week. Still, Illinois’ death rate is down about 35% compared to a month ago.
Citing those areas of gradual improvement, Pritzker has allowed bars and restaurants to reopen in six regions — but not yet in Chicago.
The Will-Kankakee county region got to Tier 1 after three consecutive days with a positivity rate below 8%. The northeast corner of the state and the north-central region are also in Tier 1.
Three other regions have improved further below 6.5% positivity to return to Phase 4 of the governor’s reopening plan: central Illinois, southern Illinois, and east-central Illinois.
Chicago and suburban Cook County are each at 8% positivity, and so could see bars and restaurants reopen within a few days if it goes below 8%. Numbers have been trending in the right direction since the holidays.
“Everything’s moving the right way, so I anticipate that in the next day or two, we may start to be below that mark,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. “We’ve been making good progress. ... Chicago and Illinois are doing so much better than most of the country in terms of coming out of this surge.”
The other suburbs are within striking distance, too, with the Kane-DuPage County region at 8.2% positivity and the Lake-McHenry county region at 8.3%.
“However, this does not mean we can let our guard down,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “We must continue to practice actions to protect ourselves from the virus — wear our masks, avoid large gatherings, and get the vaccine when it is our turn. This is particularly critical as new variants circulate, which early studies show spread much more rapidly. We are headed in the right direction once again, so let’s stay the course.”
The virus has infected about 1.1 million Illinoisans since last March and killed 18,520 people. Seventy-six of the latest victims were from the Chicago area.
Only about 121,000 residents have been fully vaccinated so far — less than 1% of the population.