Chicago ‘on track’ for bars and restaurants to reopen indoor service Saturday

The city and Cook County will move from Tier 2 to Tier 1 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 mitigation plan as long as “metrics continue to improve or are stable,” officials said.

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Customers eat at Broken English Taco Pub in Old Town in June, when Illinois moved into phase four of its reopening.

Bars and restaurants in Chicago and suburban Cook County are poised to reopen for indoor service.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Customers will be allowed back inside restaurants and many bars in Chicago and suburban Cook County beginning Saturday, barring a sudden reversal in improving coronavirus infection rates.

The city and Cook County will move from Tier 2 to Tier 1 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 mitigation plan as long as “metrics continue to improve or are stable,” the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Friday.

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Tier 1 mitigations allow restaurants and bars that serve food to seat customers inside up to 25% capacity or 25 people per room, whichever is less. Bars that don’t serve food still aren’t allowed to invite patrons inside unless they partner with a restaurant to deliver, under city regulations.

But how long they’re able to stay open is up to residents and business owners and how closely they follow precautions, Pritzker said.

“Look around the nation outside of Illinois, and you’ll see the pandemic at its worst in many places,” Pritzker said. “The risk of a resurgence in Illinois, particularly with extremely contagious new variants, is serious. Our ability to have limited indoor restaurant service and to restart youth sports could be cut short if we aren’t extremely careful.”

In late October, Mayor Lori Lightfoot limited the city bars and restaurants to outdoor service and takeout at the onset of the state’s record-breaking fall resurgence. Pritzker nixed indoor service statewide in mid-November. That dealt another devastating blow to a hospitality industry that previously had been forced to shut down for most of the spring.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker gives a COVID-19 update Friday at the James R. Thompson Center.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker gives a COVID-19 update Friday at the James R. Thompson Center.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pritzker’s office has cited studies suggesting indoor establishments are viral super-spreading sites, while industry leaders have argued the already tightly regulated restaurants have proven they can operate safely.

With infection rates declining statewide since the holidays, Lightfoot joined growing calls for Pritzker to allow for limited reopening. The Democratic governor began throwing life rafts to the decimated industry last weekend, loosening the rigid infection and hospital metrics the state’s 11 regions are required to meet to see restrictions lifted.

“This pandemic has been devastating for businesses and their workers, especially for bars and restaurants, and I know that this move will provide much-needed relief at a critical time,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Our businesses have stepped up repeatedly to save lives throughout this crisis, and I am thrilled that we will soon be ready to take this step to reopen more businesses and get employees back to work.”

Chicago and suburban Cook County will officially shed their current Tier 2 mitigations with three consecutive days of positivity rates below 8%. The regions first fell below that mark Thursday, with Chicago now at 7.8% positivity and Cook County at 7.9%.

Indoor service has already been allowed to resume in six of the state’s 11 regions, though hundreds of businesses have openly defied Pritzker’s order for weeks.

Tier 1 mitigations also require bars and restaurants to close by 11 p.m. and open no sooner than 6 a.m. the next day; reservations can’t be for more than two hours, with parties limited to four people.

In a statement, the Illinois Restaurant Association called the latest reopenings “small steps in the right direction” but said they would look “to secure more pragmatic indoor dining regulations from the state as soon as possible.”

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The state’s average positivity rate (5%) and COVID-19 hospital admissions have declined to their lowest levels in three months — though the more infectious “U.K. variant” of the virus was first identified in Chicago a week ago.

“I hope that we’ll all use the experience that we have garnered as we go forward so that we don’t, in fact, see another surge,” Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “Reduced mitigation does not mean abandoned mitigation. Businesses, restaurants, events and activities still need to have reduced capacities. People still need to avoid large events. We still need to use our masks all the time.”

With limited reopenings looming, state public health officials announced the latest 7,042 cases of the disease detected statewide among 125,831 tests — the third-highest number of tests ever processed statewide in a day.

The virus also killed another 95 residents, with 60 from the Chicago area including a Cook County woman in her 30s.

About 1.1 million Illinoisans have been infected since last March, and 18,615 of them have died.


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