With Chicago's numbers trending in the right direction, city health officials are hopeful the city will soon drop to a lower tier for coronavirus mitigations, allowing some indoor dining to resume.
Chicago started to ease some of its coronavirus restrictions this week as the region moved down to Tier 2, but indoor dining remains suspended across the city until it reaches Tier 1.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Thursday that the city's metrics are close to meeting the state's guidelines to enter Tier 1.
"We like every single region around the state needs to have adequate ICU capacity, which we have, we need to have declining numbers of COVID patients in the hospitals which we clearly have we're doing very well, and we need to have a sustained positivity rate under 8%," Arwady said. "I can tell you that that we're right around that 8% mark and we've been there for the last couple of days in the way that the state is measuring it today. [Wednesday], the day before we were right at 8%. Everything's moving the right way so I anticipate that in the next day or two, we may start to be below that mark. You've got to be below it for at least three days so I don't have a magic ball."
Repeating her optimism from earlier in the week, Arwady said restaurants could begin reopening "very soon."
"We're seeing excellent progress with COVID numbers here in Chicago, our rates are down our positivity is coming down," she said. "We're looking ahead to potentially, hopefully very soon, being in a place to start some careful reopening of restaurant dining and I know how much interest there is in that. That's because we are broadly bringing COVID under control, and the work that we're doing through vaccine is to make sure that the vaccine is one more tool in bringing our city post COVID."
Arwady had previously anticipated the city could reach Tier 1 over the weekend or sometime next week.
"As of now, still in restaurants and bars, there is no indoor service - that's allowed in the next tier, which we may possibly be able to move toward as early as, you know, possibly over the weekend, early next week, depending where this number goes," Arwady said Tuesday.
Almost all of Illinois was allowed to loosen certain restrictions this week after state health officials changed the guidelines to move between tiers and phases.
The state's health department announced that due to a change in staffing contracts, which increases hospital staffing across the state, the hospital bed availability metric used in determining a region's tier or phase will now only include ICU beds, not all hospital beds available in the region.
With that change, several regions in the Chicago area were placed under Tier 2, including the region that holds Chicago.
"There had been some conversation about whether the non-hospital capacity needed to be included and the state has made a decision that that does not need to be included at this point, which we fully agree with, because you do need to also see your number of COVID cases that are hospitalized going down," Arwady said.
As of Thursday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported Chicago's average positivity at 7.8%, calculated as of Jan. 18 due to a built-in reporting lag. That marked the first time the city had dropped below the 8% threshold for Tier 1 mitigations in recent weeks.
To move from Tier 2 to Tier 1, a region must have an average test positivity rate below 8% for three consecutive days, at least 20% of staffed ICU beds available for three consecutive days and a sustained decrease in the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 for seven out of 10 days, on a 7-day average.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot echoed Arwady's comments during an unrelated press event Tuesday, saying she's glad the state changed the guidelines, which allowed the city to reopen certain places like museums and gyms with limited capacity.
"I'm looking forward to a day when we, and hopefully soon, where we see indoor dining at restaurants," Lightfoot said. "The fact of the matter is that because the Midwest, went through the second surge first, before other parts of the country, we're coming out of it sooner than other parts of the country. We're definitely trending in the right direction."
For a full breakdown of what's allowed in each tier click here.