Note: Any news conferences from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot or other officials will be streamed in the video player above.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other officials announced on Monday a plan to ease restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, allowing indoor bar service to resume and increasing capacity limits at businesses, among other changes.
That news conference came one day after several student-athletes staged a protest outside Gov. J.B. Pritzker's home, demanding that fall sports resume.
Here are the latest updates from across Illinois on the coronavirus pandemic today (Sept. 28):
Chicago to Reopen Indoor Bar Service, Increase Capacity Limits in Easing Coronavirus Restrictions
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday plans to ease some of the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, allowing indoor bar service again and raising capacity limits on businesses, including restaurants, among other major changes.
The changes include increasing indoor capacity at restaurants, health and fitness centers, personal services, non-essential retail and all other establishments from 25% to 40%, according to Lightfoot's office.
Bars, breweries, taverns and other businesses that serve alcohol without a food license can reopen indoor seating - shut down since late July - at 25% capacity up to 50 people, officials said.
Bars and restaurants can also serve alcohol until 1 a.m. and stay open through 1:30 a.m., fitness classes can include up to 15 people and personal or salon services like facials that require removal of masks will again be allowed.
Those new changes will take effect at 5 a.m. on Thursday, officials said.
“Over the past six months, we have asked so much of our business community. But each time, our businesses have stepped up to the plate," Lightfoot said in a statement.
"Thanks to this cooperation, we have met this challenging moment with grace, commitment and resilience, and the sacrifices made by our businesses, workers and residents have saved countless lives," she continued. "This next step in our reopening is good news for business owners as well as the communities they serve and the thousands of residents that work for them.”
The city has been in phase four of its reopening plan since June 26, when some of the earlier restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus were gradually lifted.
Then on July 24, city officials changed course to shut down indoor bar service, reduce capacity limits at fitness classes and heighten other restrictions as the city continued to see an increase in its average number of daily new cases.
Now, the newly eased restrictions, according to the city, are as follows:
- Increased Indoor Capacity: Restaurants, health and fitness centers, personal services, non-essential retail and all other establishments that have been limited to 25% indoor capacity will now be able to increase their maximum indoor capacity to 40%. The limit of 50 total customers within one room or space at restaurants, venues and other establishments will remain in place, as will the limit of no more than six people per table.
- Reopening of Bars: Breweries, taverns, bars and other establishments that serve alcohol without a food license may reopen with indoor seating, at 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer. Service remains limited to no more than two hours per party, and customers must be seated when eating, drinking or ordering – patrons cannot walk up to the bar to order.
- Extended Hours for Bars and Restaurants: Bars, restaurants and other establishments that serve alcohol will now be able to sell alcohol for on-site or offsite consumption until 1:00 am and may remain open until 1:30 am. Liquor stores, grocery stores and other establishments that sell alcohol to-go through a Packaged Goods license must continue to cease alcohol sales at 9:00 p.m.
- Increased Group Size: Maximum group size for health and fitness classes and afterschool programming will increase from 10 to 15 people.
- Expanded Personal Services: Facials, shaves and other personal services that require the removal of face coverings will be allowed.
Chicago officials said that in order to maintain progress, some other changes and additional guidelines would be implemented, taking effect at the same time. They include:
- When dining out at a food service establishment or bar, customers must always wear face coverings while seated, except when actively eating or drinking. This protects employees that may interact closely with patrons.
- Patrons at indoor bars, taverns and breweries must order from their seats – they cannot walk up to the bar to order.
- Bars, taverns and breweries that are reopening indoors must partner with a food establishment so that food is available to patrons at all times (e.g., making menus available and allowing delivery, allowing patrons to order from third-party delivery services).
- When taking reservations and seating walk-in customers, restaurants and bars should retain an email and/or phone number for possible contact tracing.
- Personal services that require the removal of face coverings are recommended to be kept under 15 minutes, and the employee conducting the service must always wear a face covering.
- All places of business should provide hand sanitizer for patrons and employees to use upon entry.
Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Monday that the city was seeing an average of roughly 300 new cases of coronavirus per day, as compared to more than 350 in late August.
The positivity rate in testing has also fallen to 4.5%, officials said, adding that hospitalizations from COVID-19 as of Monday were lower than they've been since March. The city sees roughly two to three deaths per day, according to Lightfoot's office, as compared to about 50 a day at the peak of the pandemic.
“Overall, we are heading in the right direction, and this affords us an opportunity to further re-open the city and to do so gradually and safely,” Arwady said in a statement. “But I can’t emphasize this enough: Chicagoans need to continue to follow the public health guidance – wearing masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home when sick – or we risk falling back and experiencing another rise in cases.”
Prior to closing indoor bar service and implementing further restrictions in late July, Arwady had long warned that roll backs were possible if the city reached an average daily case rate above 200, which it did days before the new guidance was issued. She had previously said that daily number of new cases was the "best reflection of the burden of our disease."
"This, if I had one number, is the number that I follow," she said at the time, noting that "we've come a long way" as the Chicago was average about 1,000 cases per day in early May.
Chicago health officials have warned that if the city reaches an average of 400 new cases per day, it would mark a return to phase three of its reopening framework.
"If we get to a point where we are up to 400 cases per day, that's the equivalent of where the states are that we are requiring quarantine for our visitors," Arwady said, referring to the city's emergency travel order requiring a 14-day quarantine for people coming to Chicago from multiple states. "It's the equivalent of needing to go back to a phase three, really pulling back on major activities."
Illinois Driver's License Renewal Deadline Extended Another 3 Months
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has extended expiration dates for driver’s licenses another three months.
White announced this week that expired licenses need be renewed by Feb. 1, 2021. The previous extension was until Nov. 1. White extended the deadline to prevent the need for visiting a driver’s license facility during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those 75 and older need only ensure to renew driver’s licenses by their birthday in 2021.
The extension for renewing driver’s license plate stickers remains Nov. 1. They can be renewed online.
White continues to encourage motorists to conduct business on the secretary of state’s website to the extent possible.
Other business that can be conducted online includes obtaining a duplicate driver’s license or ID card, obtaining a driving record abstract or renewing a standard driver’s license through the Safe Driver renewal program.
When a visit to a facility is necessary, White urges customers to be patient because of a heavy volume of traffic, to wear face masks and be prepared to wait outside because of social-distance requirements.
Student-Athletes Protest Outside Pritzker's Home, Demand Return to Fall Sports
One day after plans were announced for a class action lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association, seeking for fall sports to resume, several student-athletes and their parents took their fight to outside Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Gold Coast home on Sunday.
"We're trying to get his attention," said Dave Ruggles, a parent who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "We're trying to send a message... he's the guy who's stopping this from happening."
Ruggles said he believes the IHSA did not follow bylaws, and hopes the court will force the association to do so.
The IHSA, along with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, have remained adamant that contact sports like football and volleyball will be pushed to spring as a result of the pandemic.
In a statement to NBC 5, Jeffrey Widman, an attorney with Fox Rothschild LLP, said the law firm "intends to file a class-action lawsuit that will be on behalf of all IHSA student-athletes in Illinois within the next 72 hours.”
"We understand health and safety, but somebody needs to stand up for these kids, and that’s why you’ve seen these rallies and why you’ve seen kids try to tell you these stories," said Joe Trost, an advocate for student-athletes.
Outside Pritzker's home Sunday, student-athletes renewed their calls to return to the field.
Johnathan Rodriguez, who plays soccer at Thornton Township High School, worries that missing his senior season could prevent him from playing soccer in college.
"We're willing to do anything," he said. "We all know this requires effort, and we're willing to put that forth."
Other states around Illinois have begun playing football, leaving the state as the only one in the Midwest not currently allowing high school football to take place.
Pritzker has said that he has remained in close contact with infectious disease experts, and says that the decision to push those sports back to the spring is based on their recommendations.
Southport Lanes in Lakeview Closes Permanently After Nearly 100 Years
Southport Lanes, a 98-year-old bar, bowling alley and billiards hall in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood closed its doors for good Sunday night.
The iconic establishment in Lakeview's Southport Corridor announced plans to shutdown earlier this month.
"Southport Lanes enthusiastically welcomes guests to stop by in the next week and a half to enjoy some craft beer and bar fare on the sidewalk cafe," a previous news release stated. "There is also limited indoor seating, as well as carryout available. Due to COVID-19 safety concerns, bowling and billiards is not available."
First named The Nook, Southport Lanes was built by the Schlitz Brewery around 1900, according to its website. The name was changed in 1922 and bowling lanes were added.
Last call was at 9:15 p.m. Sunday while the doors officially closed at 10 p.m. While what's next for the location remains uncertain, neighbors and customers have told NBC 5 they hope the spot doesn't sit empty.
Southport Lanes is the latest Chicago establishment to close its doors permanently during the coronavirus pandemic. Most recently, Redmond's Ale House, a popular sports bar in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood, closed for good earlier this month.
Illinois Reports 1,604 New Coronavirus Cases, 14 Additional Deaths Sunday
The Illinois Department of Health says more than 1,600 new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the last 24 hours, along with 14 new deaths related to the virus.
According to the latest figures released by state officials, state labs have confirmed 1,604 additional cases of the virus in the last day, bringing the statewide total to 287,930 since the pandemic began.
Sunday’s 14 additional deaths brings the statewide death toll to 8,601, according to IDPH statistics.
Over the last 24 hours, state labs have received 50,822 new coronavirus test results, bringing the total number of tests performed in the state during the pandemic to 5,479,510.
The seven-day positivity rate in the state also ticked upward Sunday, now sitting at 3.7% after dipping to 3.5% earlier this month.
Other metrics, including hospitalizations, continue to remain steady or slightly decrease. Officials say 1,486 patients are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19, with 350 of those patients in intensive care unit beds. Officials say 144 patients are on ventilators in those hospitals.
The state’s recovery rate, defined as patients showing no symptoms six or more weeks after their first positive test, still stands at 96%.
Class-Action Lawsuit to be Filed Against IHSA to Allow Fall Sports to Begin
A group of student-athletes and parents plan to file a class action lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association as they aim to allow fall sports to resume amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The suit will be filed in DuPage County, according to a press release, and will list the IHSA as the primary defendant. The suit is expected to be filed this week.
A total of 20 students are expected to be listed as plaintiffs in the suit, which will seek a temporary restraining order ordering the state to allow fall sports to get underway.
The suit alleges that prohibitions on some fall sports, including football and volleyball, violates the IHSA’s constitution and bylaws, and has “caused mental health issues and financial hardships” for athletes and their families, according to the press release.
Specifically, the suit alleges that the decision to postpone fall sports will have negative financial impacts on both students and parents, as they will fall behind in their ability to compete for athletic scholarships to make college more affordable.
NIU to Resume In-Person Classes Monday After 2 Weeks of Online Learning
Northern Illinois University plans to resume face-to-face classes Monday, approximately two weeks after the university temporarily announced plans to move all undergraduate courses online due to an uptick in coronavirus cases, NIU's president said.
On Sept. 11, the university announced more than 120 students tested positive for COVID-19, a sharp increase in cases which was attributed to off-campus parties and gatherings.
In a letter to the campus community on Friday, NIU President Lisa Freeman said during the two-week pause from in-person instruction, the school identified new cases within "the student surveillance testing population" and was immediately able to quarantine groups of students who were likely exposed.
"Outside of this now-isolated population, our overall positivity rate has gone down," Freeman said. "Importantly, through the DeKalb County Health Department's contact tracing efforts this past month, there is no evidence that a classroom setting has been the point of origin. We also have seen a notable decrease in parties and social gatherings. These results show us that the vast majority of you are taking this situation seriously, and I am grateful."
Parties and unregistered events of any size remain strictly prohibited as they remain high-risk activities, the letter to the campus community added.
"I want to be very clear: If we see a change in the positivity rate again, or a lack of compliance, we will be forced to take another pause or shift permanently to remote learning and related restrictions," Freeman stated in her letter.
Illinois Considered ‘Higher Risk' for Travel, IDPH Data Shows
As of Friday, Illinois was reporting 15.3 daily coronavirus cases per every 100,000 people, placing it in the "higher risk" category for travel, as defined by metrics from the state's own Department of Public Health.
With the current number of cases, Illinois would also meet the threshold to be included in Chicago's emergency travel order. States are added to the order if they have "a case rate greater than 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 resident population, per day, over a 7-day rolling average." If they fall below that threshold, they could be removed as well.
Of Illinois' neighboring states, Wisconsin has the highest number of cases, 33 per 100,000 individuals. Wisconsin was added to Chicago's travel order, which requires people returning to the city to quarantine for 14 days, for the second time on Tuesday.
Indiana, which reported 11 cases per 100,00 people, was the only neighboring state not listed as a "higher risk" on Friday, according to state health officials.
In Illinois, states reporting at least 15 daily cases per 100,000 people are marked "higher risk."
17 Illinois Counties Now at ‘Warning Level' for Coronavirus, Health Officials Say
Seventeen counties in Illinois are now at a "warning level" for coronavirus, the state's health department said Friday.
The warning means each of the counties saw increases in two or more COVID-19 "risk indicators," the health department said.
The counties now under a warning include: Bond, Boone, Cass, Christian, Clinton, Crawford, DeWitt, Fayette, Grundy, Hamilton, Macon, Menard, Peoria, Putnam, Washington, Wayne, and Winnebago.
Last week, 24 counties were at a "warning level." The week before that it was 30.
"Public health officials are observing people not social distancing, gathering in large groups, and not using face coverings," the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a statement. "In some counties, local law enforcement and states’ attorneys are not enforcing important mitigation measures like social distancing and the wearing of face coverings."
"Additionally, some people refuse to participate in contact tracing and are not providing information on close contacts or answering the phone. Individuals are also waiting to get tested believing their symptoms are allergies or some other cause," IDPH continued.
Some of the common factors for increases in cases, health officials said, "university and college parties as well as college sports teams, large gatherings and events, bars and clubs, weddings and funerals, long-term care facilities, correctional centers, schools, and cases among the community at large."
Among the metrics evaluated to determine if a county has reached a "warning level" are:
• New cases per 100,000 people. If there are 50 or more new cases per 100,000 people in the county, this triggers a warning.
• Number of deaths. This metric indicates a warning when the number of deaths increases more than 20% for two consecutive weeks.
• Weekly test positivity. This metric indicates a warning when the 7-day test positivity rate rises above 8%.
• ICU availability. If there are fewer than 20% of intensive care units available in the region, this triggers a warning.
• Weekly emergency department visits. This metric indicates a warning when the weekly percent of COVID-19-like-illness emergency department visits increase by more than 20% for two consecutive weeks.
• Weekly hospital admissions. A warning is triggered when the weekly number of hospital admissions for COVID-19-like-illness increases by more than 20% for two consecutive weeks.
• Tests perform. This metric is used to provide context and indicate if more testing is needed in the county.
• Clusters. This metric looks at the percent of COVID-19 cases associated with clusters or outbreaks and is used to understand large increase in cases.
Aurora Allows for ‘Reimagined' Trick-or-Treating
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin announced Friday that the town will allow for "reimagined" trick-or-treating this October.
Aurora officials laid out a plan for trick-or-treating in the Chicago suburb that Irvin said will allow for Halloween traditions in a COVID-friendly manner.
"This will be a Halloween like we've never seen before," Irvin said.
In previous years, Irvin said trick-or-treating hours were 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Those hours will be extended this year from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. to allow for groups to social distance.
The Aurora mayor said face masks and social distancing will be required for both trick-or-treaters and those distributing candy. He encouraged anyone showing signs of illness to refrain from participating this year.
For those trick-or-treating, Irvin asked that individuals or groups wait until others are done receiving candy to approach a house, and to wait until home to eat any candy.
Irvin asked those handing out candy to wear gloves and consider using individual bags of treats. The mayor also said the city will provide signs to put in homes as a health and safety marking.
For those not wishing to trick-or-treat but still hoping to carry on traditions, officials said Aurora will host a drive-through event on Oct. 31 for children to collect candy from city departments.
Aurora's annual haunted house attraction, Basement of the Dead, will open with new health guidelines, including Wednesday "Nights of Isolation" where groups can walk through with no actors.
More details can be found here.