Masks on the menu: Stricter face-covering rules at bars, restaurants under latest Pritzker guidelines

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said “going out for food and drinks should not be a reason or an excuse to let our guards down in the fight against COVID-19.”

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General manager Juan Becerril dispenses hand sanitizer to customers preparing to eat lunch on the patio at Flat Top Grill at 707 Church St. in Evanston in May.

General manager Juan Becerril dispenses hand sanitizer to customers preparing to eat lunch on the patio at Flat Top Grill at 707 Church St. in Evanston in May.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Unless a sip or a bite is going in, the mask pretty much has to stay on.

Facing a rise in coronavirus cases statewide, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a new set of guidelines for bars and restaurants Tuesday that require patrons to keep their masks over their mouths and noses during all interactions with wait staff and other food service workers.

That’s “including but not limited to when employees take patrons’ orders, deliver food and beverages and service tables,” according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The new guidelines go into effect Wednesday and also apply to other places that serve food, including museums, entertainment venues and “indoor recreational facilities,” officials said.

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“It’s important that we treat hospitality employees just as you would in any retail store or establishment,” Pritzker said at a news conference in Joliet, part of the Will-Kankakee County region that is facing a full ban on indoor dining due to a rise COVID-19 testing positivity rate.

The new mask guidelines apply statewide to both indoor and outdoor dining and bar service.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks Tuesday in Joliet.

Screenshot of state live-stream

“This new requirement will help keep people safe while moving the economy forward,” the Democratic governor said.

Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said “going out for food and drinks should not be a reason or an excuse to let our guards down in the fight against COVID-19.”

“To the people that say that face coverings don’t work, you’re just simply wrong,” Ezike said. “It doesn’t matter what video you saw on the internet or the fake headline you read. Please know that face coverings do save lives, but they must be used in conjunction with social distancing and hand washing.”

The state’s hospitality industry was decimated by Pritzker’s stay-at-home order for nearly three months starting in late March.

Since outdoor bar and restaurant service was reintroduced with Phase 3 of reopening in late May, and limited indoor service was allowed to resume with Phase 4 in late June, the state has required restaurant employees to wear face coverings whenever coming within 6 feet of patrons.

While customers had to have a mask for entry and moving within the restaurant — to the bathroom, for example — they previously weren’t required to wear it while seated.Now, faces must be covered at the table if restaurant or bar workers are present.

Illinois Restaurant Association president Sam Toia said the updated guidelines reinforce his organization’s pandemic message: “Covered Faces Keep Open Places.”

People dine outside at Wilde Bar & Restaurant as others walk along the sidewalk in June.

People dine outside at Wilde Bar & Restaurant as others walk along the sidewalk in June.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

“Face coverings will protect both diners and team members during this critical time,” Toia said. “If we want to stay on a steady path with reopening, it is up to every individual to work collectively toward this common goal.”

Other Phase 4 regulations for bars and restaurants are still in place for most of the state, excluding Will and Kankakee counties and downstate Metro East — which temporarily face tougher restrictions. In the rest of the state, parties are limited to 10 or less with tables spaced 6 feet and standing areas limited to 25% capacity.

The state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is providing new signage for restaurants to advertise the new requirements.

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