Restaurants in Miami, New York and across the country are also temporarily closing for positive cases, said Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association.
“We’re going to see more of this, not just in Chicago, but across the country,” he said. A tight labor market is making matters worse. If a restaurant is understaffed, having one or two sick employees could shut down the entire operation.
Chicago’s seven-day average number of COVID cases is 1,035, according to city data. That’s the highest since the start of this year, when vaccines were just starting to roll out. The omicron variant, which is believed to spread more easily, has been detected in Chicago and suburban Cook County.
Suburban Cook County today released some best practices for businesses to mitigate the spread of COVID, but no new restrictions have been put in place. The recommendations advised companies to require customers to be vaccinated or provide a negative COVID test, and suggested that unvaccinated people not congregate indoors with people outside their homes. Masking requirements remain in place.
Throughout the pandemic, the city and state have strictly regulated restoration operations. In Chicago, indoor dining was banned for nearly five months. Many operators were hoping that the fourth quarter, typically the busiest for restaurants with holiday celebrations, would help recoup some of those losses. Recovery has been uncertain.
This fall, operators wondered if the holiday season would return and what it would look like if they did. Many struggled with whether to require clients to show proof of vaccine. New York City requires its restaurateurs to collect proof of vaccination, and some business owners here believe the decision should be up to the city, not them.
Steingold’s is evaluating whether to add a vaccine requirement for customers. “But, given how busy we are on the weekends, that would be pretty hard to deal with,” said Steingold.
The grocery store plans to remain closed today and requires two negative tests from employees before they can return to work, Steingold said. The timing is difficult: Steingold’s only started offering indoor meals again two weeks ago. He plans to stop her again.
It was the first positive COVID test that a Steingold employee has suffered since the early days of the pandemic. The story is similar at Bungalow by Middle Brow. The restaurant, which serves beer, sourdough pizzas and more, just reopened its indoor dining in October. There had never been a positive employee test for COVID until this week.
“We’re lucky. It’s a combination of being careful. We had this giant patio, we didn’t open inside for a single day,” said owner Pete Ternes. “We’ve been masked ever since. that we opened up the inside, we keep the doors and windows open as much as possible … But it’s inevitable. The people who got it first got it at home.
Ternes plans to reopen late Saturday morning for reduced service, but plans to reassess based on the results of COVID tests required by staff members. He’s also working to determine what the restaurant’s policy will be going forward. If there is only one positive test, should we stop everything? How long must they remain closed? What tests should be required for employees and how many tests do they need before returning to work?
“This is the new reality,” Ternes said. “We just have to learn to live with it.”