Lightfoot offers Chicago restaurants some relief; The Illinois Restaurant Association calls it only a ‘small step’

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Chicago restaurants and bars may serve more indoor customers over Valentine’s Day and President’s Day weekend, but the Illinois Restaurant Association called it a “small step” toward reopening sought by the group.

Restaurants and bars struggling to survive had hoped Mayor Lori Lightfoot would increase indoor capacity to 50%.

Instead, Lightfoot once again turned the dimmer. It froze indoor capacity at 25%, but allowed restaurants and bars to start serving 50 people “per room or per floor”, whichever is lower, from Thursday. That’s up from 25 people right now.

“My goal is to make sure we can safely open restaurants in a way that doesn’t force us to close them again,” Health Commissioner Dr Allison Arwady said on Wednesday during a a press conference at City Hall. “My goal is to move as fast as it’s safe to move and not get into a situation where we have a third wave.”

Although key health metrics have improved in recent months, the risk “remains elevated,” Arwady said.

The number of new cases per day now stands at 466; it must be below 200. Chicago’s mobile positivity rate now stands at 4.7%, with much of that improvement due to increased testing capacity, she said.

“You have to take off your mask to eat and drink. By definition, you come together, sort of up close. And the evidence suggests there are more risks in those settings,” Arwady said.

To increase restaurant and bar capacity to 40%, Lightfoot wants Chicago to fall below 400 new cases per day for three consecutive days. The positivity rate, emergency room visits and intensive care bed occupancy must remain at the “moderate risk” level.

“I’m hopeful that just in the next few weeks, if we continue to see the progress that we’ve already made, we’ll be at a point where we can move to 50% capacity,” Arwady said.

The Chicago Restaurants Coalition responded with a press release, titled, “No Valentine’s Day card for Mayor Lightfoot as he holds 25% indoor dining capacity.”

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said Lightfoot’s slow approach rewards downtown restaurants with multiple rooms and penalizes neighborhood establishments with only one dining room.

“It’s a baby step. We would like to be at 40 or 50 percent capacity with no room limit,” Toia said.

“It’s still very difficult for our independent restaurants in our 77 communities there… with only one room. That is why we hope by next week, if we see these parameters reached, that we will reach 40 or 50%. »

Aldus. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather Restaurants, was also disappointed.

“For neighborhood restaurants that are smaller, there is no change. It’s always devastating for neighborhood restaurants. There is very little relief coming from the administration in our neighborhoods for these small independent restaurants,” Tunney said.

“Unfortunately, we have already lost a large percentage of that. It’s been almost a year, right? These people don’t have that kind of capital to go on. Even though they got grants from the federal government, they went through it and still couldn’t survive.

Ald town center. Brian Hopkins (2nd) countered that the mayor’s slow approach makes sense until more is known about whether the most contagious variant of coronavirus is taking hold in Chicago.

“We don’t want to give people the false sense that this pandemic is over. This may not be the case. … We cannot afford to take this risk. And if you wait for the spread to start, you really can’t stop it,” Hopkins said.

“We have to continue to be careful and ease the restrictions very slowly. I know this is not good news, especially for restaurants that are seeing declining positivity and really want to reopen. We simply cannot at this time due to the very real threat that this highly transmissible variant [is out there] and it will target places where people are inside and unmasked. It means a restaurant.

Two of Tunney’s three Ann Sather locations have two rooms each, allowing up to 100 diners today. The third has only one room, he says.

Tunney noted that Chicago’s positivity rate is “down nicely,” just like it did last summer when indoor dining was allowed at 40% capacity.

“Whether or not we’re worried about the new strain or whatever, I just think if people do it responsibly – social distancing, wearing masks – we can do it 40%, like what we have did last year,” Tunney mentioned.

Even with the 50 people per room or per floor, other city controls remain. Bars and breweries must offer food to serve customers inside or partner with a local restaurant. There is a maximum of six per table. Bar patrons and restaurant and bar tables must be seated six feet apart. Face coverings must be worn at all times, except when eating and drinking. Bars and restaurants must close at midnight. And liquor sales must end at 11 p.m.

In December, Tunney was fined $10,500 for allowing regular customers to dine at his Belmont restaurant in Lake View in defiance of state and city orders.

Tunney, the Lightfoot-picked chairman of the city council’s zoning committee, admitted he had ‘made a mistake’ and promised it would never happen again, but only after a blog posting about the issues police released photos of indoor dining at Ann Sather on December 12. 3.

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