With Chicago set to lift its vaccine and mask mandates in many locations next week, some businesses say they are relieved, while others have announced plans to continue with COVID precautions despite the city's plans.
At Artango Restaurant in Lincoln Square, the owners and customers alike were delighted with Tuesday’s news that the city will remove most of its COVID restrictions on Feb. 28.
“We are really happy about it,” Javier Lopinto said. “After two years, we are ready to take it out and show our smiles and faces. We’re really happy.”
Meanwhile, Broadway in Chicago, and the League of Chicago Theatres, announced plans to continue with masking and vaccination requirements for audiences.
"In these changing times, the coalition of more than 60 performing arts venues and producers across Chicagoland, who came together in the fall of 2021 to create unified COVID-19 guidelines, will continue their Covid-19 vaccination and mask requirements for audiences," the league's statement read Tuesday. "This unified COVID-19 protection protocol will be in effect until further notice and will be reviewed regularly based on the needs and comfort of our patrons, staff and artists and may be relaxed at any time."
The Chicago Restaurants Association says the reversal is a good start, but more help is needed to help eateries to get back on their feet after a long slog of a pandemic.
“If federal money does not come, we fear thousands of restaurants (around the country) could close. It can’t happen,” Roger Romanelli of the CRA said. “Owners are on the brink of going out of business. We need action by your senators, the mayor, the governor. Illinois has got to lead the way to save America’s restaurants.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged that many businesses may choose to keep current guidelines in place.
"It's up to the individual businesses to make a decision on how they want to move forward," she said. "And I fully expect, based upon conversations I've been in correspondence, I've seen that some are just simply going to keep enforcing, whether it's a mask mandate or the vaccinations themselves, but that's their choice."
Even as mandates are rolled back, they will remain in place in some locations, including public transportation, congregate living facilities and health care facilities.
The city’s plan to drop its proof-of-vaccination and mask mandates on Feb. 28 aligns with both suburban Cook County and the state of Illinois.
COVID metrics that the city was keeping an eye on to help make determinations on whether to roll back mitigations show that Chicago is indeed progressing in several key areas, with hospitalizations at a low watermark not seen since August and the city’s positivity rate now at 1.5%, well below what the CDC deems a “lower transmission” risk for the virus.
Many Chicago residents are in favor of the decision to reverse the mitigations, saying that the city’s plans line up with what the data is showing.
“You wanna do what makes sense,” Gary Wald said. “And put restrictions in place when things ramp up. I think everyone assumed when they’re better they’d ease up.”
That being said, not all residents are fully onboard.
“I’ve been mixed,” Mary Ceron said. “I feel a little nervous about it because I was getting used to the mask mandate. I appreciated the card (too).”
Still, residents are hopeful that the rollback of mitigations shows that the city, and the state, are learning to live with COVID-19 as new treatments become available.
“I feel it’s a sign,” Ceron said. “Of hope and moving forward.”