Chicago Indoor Dining Should Resume Next Week

Chicago should resume indoor dining “within a week,” according to the city’s top doctor. During a Thursday morning news conference, Chicago Public Health Department Commissioner Dr. Alison Arwady said indoor dining would resume soon, though she couldn’t provide a specific date. When indoor dining returns to Chicago, Arwady said the city will remain cautious enforcing a four-person maximum at tables with a 25 percent overall capacity limit indoors.

Arwady praised how the city and state has done a better job in battling COVID-19 and that’s allowed government officials to loosen restrictions. The state has already given two suburban counties — Will and Kankakee — its approval to resume indoor dining. On Thursday morning, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Region 7 (as designated in the state’s pandemic recovery plan) had met the COVID-19 criteria that would allow for indoor dining at a maximum 25 percent capacity.

Indoor dining is permitted when a region is promoted to Tier 1 of the state’s recovery initiative. Chicago (Region 11) is labeled is presently in Tier 2. Chicago would advance to Tier 1 if its seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate average (the number of novel coronavirus tests that return positive) ranges 6.5 percent to 8 percent for three-consecutive days. Chicago’s positivity rate, as of Thursday morning, sits at 7.7 percent. The number of available ICU beds is also something health experts consider. Arwady says it could take a day or two for the city’s positivity rate to reach the threshold required for indoor dining. The rate has been falling since last week when the rate hovered above 10 percent.

Over the weekend, the city went from Tier 3 to Tier 2 which meant group fitness classes and museum visits (at a reduced capacity) could return. Even though the metric met state standards, it can take a few days before businesses can adapt. For example, fitness centers and gyms in Chicago resumed group classes on Thursday.

Suburban Cook County is also prepping to reopen. Hugo’s Frog Bar in Rosemont — owned by Gibsons Restaurant Group (which drew attention last week after a fire at its flagship in Gold Coast) — is prepping to resume indoor dining today.

The Illinois Restaurant Association has pushed hard for the return of indoor dining for its membership. The group has remained in contact with government officials including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and Arwady. Restaurants have been barred from indoor service since October 30. Some have gone into hibernation and many have closed. Restaurants have spent much time talking to city officials about indoor dining leading Arwady to say on Thursday that she knows “how much interest there is in that.”

Region 6 — which includes Champaign, Effingham, Vermillion — has already advanced from Tier 1 to the next stage of recovery. Phase 4 reverts to the state’s original plan unveiled last year. The shift from phases to tiers came after Illinois unveiled new mitigations during the start of the second wave of infections in October.

When it comes to vaccines, Arwady said the city continues to focus on health care workers and older at-risk patients. She preached the importance of following up and getting the required second dose, saying patients should also go to the same health care provider where they got their first injection. There’s no online form to register from the government. Arwady urges patience and for Chicagoans to do their own vaccine research.

The city is also hopeful now after President Joe Biden’s inauguration that vaccinations will be more readily available.

“As soon as we have more vaccines, more and more and more people we be able to get it,” Arwady said.

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