Officials Urge Caution as Crowds, Gatherings Expected Over Holiday Weekend

The state warned bars and restaurants that liquor licenses could be revoked and businesses could be immediately shut down if found in violation of the guidelines

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Illinois officials urged residents to use caution when heading out during the holiday weekend.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike issued a plea for businesses to comply with phase four guidelines as states across the country continue to see "rapid increases."

“The virus is not taking the holiday weekend off, and neither can we. Letting our guard down now would fly in the face of the progress we’ve made over many months,” Pritzker said in a statement Friday. “We have seen that mitigation measures have worked in our state and we’ve seen too many other states rapidly lose ground in the fight against the virus. If establishments cannot abide by capacity requirements, I will not hesitate to close them to keep people safe. We must continue to take the proven steps that keep us safe: wear a face covering, watch your distance and wash your hands. While other parts of the country are refusing to follow the science and seeing their positivity rate and hospitalizations increase, Illinoisans have come together to keep each other safe. Let’s keep being all in for our communities.”

Ezike urged residents to avoid crowded bars and restaurants and cautioned those who do go out to maintain distance and wear a face covering.

“Bars, by design, are social settings where people gather closely together for extended periods of time. Additionally, people often need to raise their voices or shout to be heard, which means droplets from seemingly well but infected individuals could spread further than the recommended 6 feet of distancing,” Ezike said in a statement. “All of these factors increase the risk of transmission and can lead to more cases and outbreaks."

The state warned bars and restaurants that liquor licenses could be revoked and businesses could be immediately shut down if found in violation of the guidelines. Casinos face license revocation as well if found to be in violation of the safety requirements.

In the city, a similar plea was issued.

"Please be safe in all of the ways that you can," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Friday.

Officials with CDPH, the Chicago Park District and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications all reminded residents to maintain social distancing, wear masks and think twice before heading to a gathering.

"If you're going to be out on the lakefront, keep moving, again wear a mask, stay off the beaches," Chicago Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly said. "The beaches are closed, which also means stay out of the water."

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday 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 started ramping up enforcement on phase four guidelines.

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

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 Chicago business "in cases of egregious violation."

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.

The pleas come as states across the U.S. see surges of coronavirus cases, many shutting down bars and restaurants in an effort to quell or prevent a spike.

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.

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. 

Outside the Midwest, 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.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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