Chicago restaurant group wants Lightfoot to reopen indoor dining, even as COVID-19 cases rise

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CHICAGO (WLS) – Chicago restaurant owners are trying to expand outdoor dining as temperatures drop, but a group of them are asking Mayor Lori Lightfoot to reopen indoor dining in the city, so even as COVID-19 cases increase.

Tents and domes are quickly being built on the available sidewalks, but they are not the first choice of restaurateurs or customers. For now, with indoor dining banned, they may be the only choice.

“For the next six and a half months, that may be all we can do,” said Phillip Waters, The Bristol.

Walters said the Bucktown restaurant has spent tens of thousands of dollars on filtration systems, air purifiers, UVC light and most other safety measures to make the dining room safe. But they’re still forced to seat customers outside, so they have portable heaters, lights, and even music systems to try to make customers comfortable.

But Walters and a group of other Chicago restaurateurs say they shouldn’t have to.

“It’s time the city stopped scapegoating restaurants for the virus,” said Roger Romanelli, Fulton Market Association.

The Fulton Market Association points to statistics it has just obtained from the city through the Freedom of Information Act which suggest that only about 3% of COVID-19 patients the city has been able to track for a three-month period could be attributed to visiting a restaurant. The city’s data, however, included less than a third of those with COVID-19.

Restaurant owners are now asking the mayor to reopen indoor restaurants.

“I’m looking to close if the interior isn’t 25% restored,” said Jodi Agee, Jefferson Tap.

Walters said he thinks his restaurant is safer than most people’s homes.

“We are the gold standard in security,” he said.

Lightfoot recently announced a $10 million hospitality grant program to provide emergency relief to restaurants, bars and their employees, as well as an initiative called the Takeout Chicago Campaign to try to incentivize residents to order takeout during the winter to help keep restaurants open.

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