Restaurants Relax After Lightfoot Eases Indoor Dining Restrictions For The Second Time In 3 Weeks
Hospitalizations and infections attributed to COVID-19 are falling, and Chicago's restaurateurs and bar owners are getting some relief from public health restrictions that have choked their businesses over the past year.
On Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city is easing restrictions, and effective immediately, indoor capacity at bars, restaurants and other businesses can increase to 50%, up from 25%, with up to 50 people per room. The move comes just three weeks after Lightfoot boosted the total persons allowed in a room from 25 to 50.
“We have made incredible progress in recent weeks and months, and I thank our business community for their ongoing commitment to saving lives,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “I am thrilled that we have reached 50% capacity, but I again call on all of our businesses and residents to double down on what works. We must remain diligent as we continue to move forward cautiously and responsibly.”
Restaurant owners say it will make a difference.
"It's been a rough winter," Italian Village proprietor Gina Capitanini told Bisnow. "But the main thing is this will bring a lot of optimism. From a consumer's perspective, the perception will be that things are safer now."
Italian Village was founded by her grandfather in 1927. The city’s oldest Italian restaurant, it is actually three restaurants under one roof at 71 West Monroe St. in the Loop. Before the crisis, it employed as many as 130 people.
The city will also now allow bars and restaurants to stay open until 1 a.m., and restrictions will ease on other businesses as well. Liquor stores can sell alcohol until 11 p.m., and health clubs can host indoor fitness classes with up to 20 people. Movie theaters and performance venues can also increase to 50% capacity, as long as there are no more than 50 people in one space.
Capitanini said she still worries about smaller restaurants, as the requirement to keep groups of customers 6 feet apart remains, along with the requirement for face masks.
"This is very good for the industry as a whole, and it's a step in the right direction, but some restaurants only have so much room."
Lightfoot eased up on local businesses because the city has continued meeting four key benchmarks set in early February by the Chicago Department of Public Health. Under that framework, the city had to reach at least the “Moderate-Risk” level for new COVID-19 cases per day, coronavirus test positivity, emergency department visits for COVID-19 and ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Chicago is averaging 283 new cases per day and 103 occupied intensive care unit beds, both at the “Moderate-Risk” level, according to CDPH. Its COVID-19 test positivity averages 2.9%, and the city averages 42 emergency department visits each day, both considered at the “Lower-Risk” level.
“We have been trending in the right direction and I congratulate Chicagoans for continuing to do the right thing in helping us contain the spread of the virus,” CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement. ”We need to keep it up so we can continue to reopen our city safely and smartly, and get back to doing the things we love.”
Capitanini told Bisnow she is now certain her landmark restaurant will make it through the pandemic.
"It was very lonely in the Loop when we could only do carryout and delivery," she said. "But we all decided we were going to dig in and not give up. It's kind of hard to give up after 93 years."