Chicago Coronavirus

Lightfoot Issues Warning to Restaurants, Bars That Saw Crowds, Lines Last Weekend

"We simply cannot have any large gatherings like we saw last weekend," Lightfoot said, calling the crowds and lines "foolish"

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With Chicago bracing for gatherings over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a warning to restaurants and bars that allowed massive crowds of people and long lines on the first weekend of indoor dining.

"We simply cannot have any large gatherings like we saw last weekend," Lightfoot said, calling the crowds and lines "foolish."

Lightfoot said it is a "make or break" weekend for restaurants and bars as the city has already said it will begin ramping up enforcement on phase four guidelines starting Thursday.

"I don't want to shut you down, but if you make me, I will," she said.

As states across the U.S. see surges of coronavirus cases, many have shut down bars and restaurants in an effort to quell or prevent a spike.

In the Midwest alone, public health officials closed indoor service at bars in Madison, Wisconsin, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday said she was closing indoor seating in bars in parts of the state, including a city with a bar that has been linked to a rising number of infections. 

New cases have surged in several states across the nation, setting new records almost daily, driven mostly by expanding outbreaks in the American South and West. Florida, Texas, California and Arizona are just some of the states that reported record-high counts of daily new cases last week.

California closed bars, theaters and indoor restaurant dining all over again across most of the state Wednesday.

Some distant states and cities that seemed to have tamed their outbreaks, including Colorado, Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey, hit pause or backtracked on some of their reopening plans for bars and restaurants as they watched the crisis unfold from afar.

Still, Chicago moved to phase four last Friday, allowing indoor dining to resume with limited capacity.

"Cases all over the country on fire," Lightfoot said. "Record numbers of new cases and deaths from across the country and all around Chicago- that's not going to be our story."

She noted, however, that as cases rise, restaurants and bars are among the first to be shut down.

"We see what's happening in states around the country, even all the states that are surrounding us and when governors get concerned, what do they do first? They shut down the bars and they shut down the restaurants," Lightfoot said. "We have worked very, very hard to get to this point."

The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection will issue citations with fines of up to $10,000 for social distancing, capacity limit and face covering violations, the mayor's office said.

In addition, investigators can now immediately close a business "in cases of egregious violation."

"To avoid the examples of egregious crowding as well as disregard for social distancing and face coverings seen last weekend, BACP has spent this week canvasing entertainment districts throughout Chicago," the mayor's office said in a release.

Under the guidelines, bars and restaurants can seat a max of 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer, and must stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. They are also required to manage lines outside of their business.

"If you are not following the guidelines, we have to step in and take strong measures," said BACP Commissioner Rosa Escareno.

Since Chicago began phase three on June 3, the BACP said it has received at total of 764 complaints related to reopening. At least 377 investigations have been conducted and 59 warnings or "notices to correct" were issued, along with citations for nine businesses.

The city urged members of the public to submit complaints regarding social distancing violations to 311.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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