Chicago Restaurants: It Makes Sense to Close Streets for Safe Outdoor Dining

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We go outside.

We will do this safely, respecting the rules of social distancing.

We will avoid crowds and keep a healthy distance of 6 feet or more from anyone we don’t live with, including friends. We are not going to share food, forks or drinks if we have a picnic.

But we go outside – much more than we have been.

There is a growing consensus among experts that the risks of contracting or spreading the coronavirus are low enough outdoors if the proper precautions are taken. It’s safer than going back to the office or walking through a mall, and it’s much safer than hustling in bars like people do in Wisconsin.

The challenge for the government is to find creative ways to support our safe and socially distant emergence from the cocoons of our homes. In that sense, we’re intrigued by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s apparent plan to close streets so restaurants can expand.

As Fran Spielman of the Sun-Times reported on Saturday, Lightfoot signaled his intentions in a tweet on Friday, without going into details.

“People are eager to get out. Businesses are looking for creative ways to serve customers. The key is how we do it,” the mayor tweeted. “Stay tuned for some changes to our streets and sidewalks. Transport is not limited to cars. We’ll show how Chicago can be safer and easier to get around.

Tables could be spaced at least 6 feet apart and restaurant workers would of course have to wear masks. They could also be required to submit to daily temperature checks, as suggested by a phased restaurant reopening plan proposed by the Illinois Restaurant Association.

Tampa and Cincinnati have already closed streets for safe outdoor dining, and Connecticut will allow outdoor dining starting Wednesday, with tables spaced at least 6 feet apart. Chicago could do something similar.

The inescapable reality is that the pandemic is not about to end. Anyone calling for all lockdown restrictions to be lifted is trying to take the leap. A cautious and safe response to the pandemic is not a liberal plot. We continue to strongly support Governor JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders.

But for that same reason — because Americans can live and work in a world afflicted by COVID-19 for a long time — governors, mayors, and other leaders must get creative to reopen the country as safe as possible.

In Chicago, that could include safe, socially distanced outdoor dining, provided that rain stops.

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