The city of Chicago won't permit bars and restaurants to increase indoor dining capacity even though Illinois health officials are expected to ease restrictions in the city as a result of progress in the fight against COVID-19, city officials announced Friday.
Chicago, which is designated as Region 11 by the Illinois Department of Public Health, remained at Tier 1 Friday, the highest level of restrictions that allows indoor dining.
Under Tier 1 mitigations, indoor service is limited to lesser of 25% or 25 persons per room, no tables exceeding four people are permitted indoors and indoor service must be suspended if an establishment is not serving food. Additionally, all bars and restaurants must close at 11 p.m., and reservations are required for all parties.
Chicago could move to the next level of restrictions, Phase 4, if the test positivity rate is below 6.5% percent for three consecutive days, at least 20% of staffed intensive care unit hospital beds are available and no sustained increase in hospitalized COVID patients is reported for seven out of 10 days.
On Friday, the city's COVID-19 case rate was 6.4%, the first day it was reported to be under the 6.5% threshold.
In a news release, city officials stated that while numbers continue to decline, they claim a "hurried return to greater indoor capacity would bring serious risk" of reducing the progress that has been made.
"We have just resumed safe indoor dining, and while we are excited to make that move we must continue to be thoughtful and cautious in our reopening," Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in the news release. "The last thing we want is to cause a third wave of the virus by rushing to fully reopen riskier settings where masks are removed and people gather in close proximity.”
Additionally, health officials stated it is "standard public health practice" to monitor the impact of any significant mitigation change for a minimum of two weeks, noting Chicago returned to indoor dining less than a week earlier.
Under Phase 4 guidelines as determined by IDPH, indoor bar service may resume without restrictions requiring food service and indoor dining is allowed for parties up to 10 people. Also, standing areas are permitted at no more than 25% of capacity.
When Chicago shifts to Phase 4, the following regulations will be in place:
- Indoor dining and indoor events will remain limited to the lesser of 25% capacity or 25 people per space
- Most other industries will be limited to the lesser of 40% capacity or 50 people
- Bar seating will be allowed and indoor table size can increase to six people
- Non-essential business curfew will be repealed
- Bars and restaurants will be able to extend operating hours to midnight, with no alcohol service after 11 p.m.
In a statement, Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, told NBC 5 restaurants are confident they can safely serve more guests in Phase 4.
"“As one of the most highly regulated industries in terms of health and safety — and with enhanced precautions introduced during COVID-19 — Chicago restaurant operators know how to protect the wellbeing of their guests and team members," he stated. "...The industry needs more to survive this crisis."
City officials plan to release additional information on regulations for bars and restaurants as well as criteria for expanding indoor capacity in the following days.