Restaurants can increase indoor dining capacity starting Thursday, Chicago officials announced, as the city pointed to positive downward trends in the COVID-19 measures it is following to determine plans. of reopening.
The immediate change is small, allowing restaurants to increase indoor capacity to 50 people per floor or 25%, whichever is lower. Previously, the limit was 25 people.
But if COVID-19 measures continue to drop, capacity could reach 40% within days and 50% within weeks.
The city should see three consecutive days with an average number of new cases below 400. On Wednesday, this metric is at 466. The 7-day case positivity rate should remain below 6.5%, which was 4.7 % Wednesday. The number of emergency room visits and occupied intensive care beds will also be taken into account.
Bars, restaurants and events will still have to follow other restrictions put in place last year when the city reopened after the first stay-at-home order. These restrictions include limiting groups to six people or fewer, spacing tables 6 feet apart, requiring masks and closing at midnight. The sale of alcohol must end at 11 p.m.
Dr Allison Arwady, Chicago’s public health commissioner, said the reopening must be done “smartly and safely”.
“While we’re excited to make this decision today and further reopen Chicago, it needs to be done the right way or we risk seeing an increase in cases and having to tighten restrictions again,” Arwady said. in a press release.
The restaurant industry has been devastated by the pandemic. Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said about 20% of restaurants will close permanently due to the pandemic.
“Today’s announcement comes at a critical time and is another step towards recovery,” Toia said in a statement. “Restaurants need this increase more than ever, as well as federal assistance.”
But the Chicago Restaurants Coalition lambasted Mayor Lori Lightfoot for failing to increase indoor dining capacity to 50% in time for Valentine’s Day weekend. The coalition said raising the cap from 25 to 50 people does nothing to help the city’s more than 7,000 family restaurants.
Restaurants and bars are highly regulated by the city. Since last March, the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection has conducted 8,450 investigations and cited 435 businesses for violating COVID-19 restrictions.
Becky Vevea covers city politics and COVID-19 vaccines for WBEZ. Am here @beckyvevea.