Graduation and wedding seasons are fast approaching and this year's events will be unlike any other.
While most events were canceled or dramatically scaled down last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, more widely available vaccines and early signs of improvements in COVID metrics have enabled some jurisdictions to loosen restrictions on in-person gatherings.
So if you're hosting a wedding, a graduation party or any other private social event this year, what are the new restrictions? Here's a look at what you need to know:
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Capacity limits in Illinois, Cook County and Chicago
All of Illinois is currently in Phase 4 of its reopening plan, with limits on how many people are allowed at social events. Those limits for indoor venues are 50% capacity of the space up to 50 people, and for outdoor venues, 50% capacity of the space up to 100 people total.
Chicago and Cook County, both previously operating on their own more stringent restrictions, announced Thursday that they would increase capacity limits on those types of events to be the same as the state's guidelines.
As part of the statewide reopening plan, Illinois officials unveiled a new Bridge Phase last month, announcing new metrics and guidelines that will allow for higher capacity limits during a transitional period between the current Phase 4 and a full reopening in Phase 5.
While the state has since reached the vaccination metrics required to advance from Phase 4 to the Bridge Phase, increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have prevented the state from moving into the new phase.
Chicago officials said Thursday that if the city's reopening metrics "remain stable or continue to decrease for the next two weeks" and the city reaches criteria set by the state, Chicago will join Illinois in moving to the Bridge Phase.
Once the state moves to the Bridge Phase, capacity limits statewide will increase to 250 for indoor events and to 500 people for outdoor events. There are no capacity limits in Phase 5.
Vaccinated people don't count toward capacity limits
People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer count toward capacity limits at private events like weddings and parties in Chicago and suburban Cook County, officials announced Thursday.
The change brings both jurisdictions in line with the updated Phase 4 guidelines Illinois health officials unveiled last month.
When Illinois officials updated the state's reopening plan in March, they said "individuals with proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test (PCR) 1-3 days prior to an event or outing do not count against capacity limits."
People are fully vaccinated once they are 14 days past receiving their final vaccine dose, officials say.
In Chicago, events where this new guidance applies must be held at a licensed business, cannot be open to the public and guests must RSVP prior to the event, city officials said. The city's website also says events where vaccinated individuals don't count toward capacity limits must take place at designated event venues, noting, "i.e., a restaurant cannot rent out their regular restaurant space for an event."
Business owners will be responsible for verifying that exempted guests are fully vaccinated and keep records, Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office said, adding that the city "will consider expanding this exemption to other industries in the coming weeks, provided that our COVID-19 metrics continue to improve."
Other guidelines on social events
Chicago and Cook County both released further guidelines for event spaces in Phase 4.
In Cook County, other restrictions on social events and gatherings include:
- An indoor held social event or gathering may not split the specific social event’s group into multiple rooms.
- An outdoor held social event or gathering may not place multiple tents 30 feet apart to accommodate multiple groups of 100 people for the specific event’s group.
- All venues must keep dance floors and spaces closed.
- Indoor table size limited to no more than six people.
- Outdoor table size limited to no more than 10 people
In Chicago, some of the extensive new requirements and recommendations for event spaces - largely directed to the businesses that are contracted to host these types of events - include:
- Ensure >6 ft. between individuals and close choke points
- Arrange tables so that seated patrons are a minimum of 6 ft apart, decommission tables, and/or add physical barriers (e.g., Plexiglass) between tables if they can't be moved
- Use impermeable barriers where 6 ft social distancing is not possible (e.g., event check-in counters, registers)
- Clearly mark any area where guests queue (e.g., check-stands and terminals, bars and buffets, restrooms, etc.) with appropriate physical distancing guidance
- Ensure stage or other designated area for performers (e.g., dancers, singers, bands) is at least 10 ft. distance from the audience
- Limit number of guests
- Multiple groups / events are allowed in the same venue if groups are meeting in separate rooms and not interacting (e.g., convention centers with multiple venue spaces)
- It is recommended that guests remain primarily seated and stationery throughout the event (e.g., sitting at tables)
- Close areas where individuals congregate in close proximity (e.g., dance floors)
- Limit interactions between performers (e.g., dancers, singers, bands) and guests, where possible
- Ensure protective gear worn by employee or vendors and guests
- Implement frequent sanitization requirements of all high touch surfaces / handled items
- Ensure vendors / performers sanitize all equipment (e.g., microphones, instruments, photobooths) before and after each use
- Provide disposable items and equipment where possible (e.g., menus, containers, condiments, linens)
- Clean and sanitize non-disposable items / equipment (e.g., containers, pitchers, tables, chairs, linens) after each use; note that the item has been sanitized for the next user
- If practical, use fixed menu boards or digital menus
- Modify workplace conditions to minimize interactions
- All guests must be seated while eating or drinking
- Counter / bar seating allowed if 6ft distancing can be maintained between guests (consider use of Plexiglass between guests and bartenders)
- Require organized line if ordering from counter / bar, but wait service preferred
- If practical, consider venue modifications to promote social distancing (e.g., moving furniture, floor marking, and/or reorienting workstations to allow workers to face away from each other)
- Allow cafeterias, buffets, or other self-serve food stations to reopen if an employee or vendor is serving the food and wearing proper PPE
- If practical, limit the use of beverage stations by guests
- If practical, establish directional hallways, doors, or passageways for foot traffic
- If practical, provide separate restroom facilities for workers and guests / third parties
- Ensure music volume remains low so employee or vendors and guests can practice social distancing while talking (e.g., taking orders)
- If practical, encourage cashless/contactless ordering and payment (e.g., for "cash" bars)