Chicago will have some new guidelines as the city enters its Bridge Phase Friday.
The city announced plans to expand vaccine exemptions as part of the new stage of reopening, allowing capacity limitations to increase for businesses with fully vaccinated guests.
"In addition to the increased capacity that comes with the Chicago Bridge Phase, businesses will have the option of not counting fully vaccinated individuals towards COVID-19 capacity limits for all industries," the city said in a release. "Restaurants and bars will also be able to seat parties larger than ten people if all patrons are fully vaccinated."
Under the exemption, the following changes can take place, according to the city:
- Fully vaccinated individuals do not count towards COVID-19 capacity limits across all industries.
- Bars, restaurants, and other establishments that allow onsite consumption of food or alcohol can increase table or party size above the limit of ten if all patrons age 16+ at that table or within that party are fully vaccinated.
- Late Hour Liquor Licensees can operate without hour restrictions for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began if only fully vaccinated patrons are permitted to enter. While all bars and restaurants are allowed to stay open under standard hours in the Chicago Bridge Phase, this will allow Late Hour establishments to stay open until 4:00 am Monday through Saturday morning and 5:00 am on Sunday morning if all patrons are fully vaccinated.
Businesses will be expected to verify when people are fully vaccinated and "track which customers are exempt from capacity limits to ensure compliance," officials said.
"It's been nearly five months since vaccines first arrived in our city and since their arrival, we've been able to turn a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel into a full-blown flood of hope," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. "With more and more of our residents vaccinated, we will be able to reopen more and more of our city in a way that is not only safe, but will allow us to eventually return to a sense of normal. This vaccine exemption expansion announcement, as well as our city's shift into the Bridge Phase, proves that we are continuing to make progress in our mission of overcoming this pandemic once and for all."
Already Thursday, the Cubs and White Sox announced both teams will increase capacity limits at Wrigley and Guaranteed Rate fields to 60% later this month. Both fields will also soon debut new designated areas in the stands specifically for fans who are fully vaccinated.
Illinois will also be entering its own Bridge Phase starting Friday.
“Illinoisans have worked so hard over the past year and a half to keep their families and neighbors safe, and reaching Bridge Phase means that we’re closer than ever to a return to normalcy,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday. “To keep up this progress, I urge every eligible Illinoisan – now including 12 to 15-year-olds – to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
The Bridge Phase will allow for higher capacity limits at places like museums, zoos and spectator events as well as increased business operations. It acts as a transition phase before a full reopening.
Chicago plans to join the state's Bridge Phase restrictions in the coming weeks, depending on metrics.
"Chicago’s Bridge Phase largely aligns with the state’s plan and, following standard protocol, we will update our plan to align fully with the state in two weeks if our metrics continue to remain stable or decline," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office announced.
For a complete breakdown of what changes between Phase 4 and the Bridge Phase for both the city and state, click here.
Already, Illinois has announced plans to enter Phase 5 as early as June 11, but it's not clear when Chicago might join.
Speaking at an event alongside Pritzker Monday, Lightfoot said she certainly hopes Chicago can fully reopen by June 11, but she didn't commit to a specific date.
"We're headed in the right direction," the mayor said. "But everything about this pandemic has to have an asteroid of caution, because of the twists and turns, and as the governor and doctor said, we've got to get people vaccinated, so that we can get ahead of these variants."
Last week, Lightfoot revealed Chicago was on track to be "fully open" by the Fourth of July holiday and said such a shift will take place when the city sees "continued improvement in COVID metrics and more widespread vaccine uptake.