Though Chicago may be opening up more as the city increases indoor dining capacity for restaurants and bars and eases other restrictions, officials are still warning against St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
Last year, the holiday marked the beginning of the pandemic, with the city canceling its parade yet crowds still filling streets, bars and restaurants.
"We were getting into March, this very compressed time period, kind of leading into St Patrick's Day where we were starting to see some more cases and I think in a lot of ways canceling the St. Patrick's Day parade was one of the first big things that people started recognizing that this was going to be a major impact," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday during a Facebook Live.
Now, as cases continue on a downward trend with vaccinations increasing daily, there's hope. But that doesn't necessarily mean the parties can resume, Arwady said.
"We are in a much better place than we were a few months ago, right? You saw we were able to expand bars and restaurants to 50% capacity, some expanded hours there, but we've got to keep the COVID precautions in place and I would just ask people - not the year yet for a big celebration," Arwady said. "I'm very hopeful that, you know, in a few months if things keep heading the way that they're going we are going to be sort of more and more open. We're certainly having conversations about later in the spring, in the summer if things keep heading the way that they're heading, but the middle of March is is not yet a point to sort of think that COVID is just over."
Both Chicago St. Patrick's Day parades have been canceled for the second year in a row this March due to the coronavirus pandemic, city officials announced n February.
"We are working with organizers and communities to identify ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in a safe manner that aligns with ongoing public health guidance," the mayor's office said.
Chicago's 2021 South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade "will not run its traditional march down Western Avenue," event organizers said.
Instead, South Side Irish organization plans to hold a "Shamrock Our Blocks" event, a home decorating contest that encourages Chicago's South Side to dress houses, light poles and cars in St. Patrick's Day green.
Earlier this week, city officials announced that restaurants, bars and events can offer indoor service at 50% capacity, though all venues will be limited to 50 people within any one space.
In addition, the curfew for restaurants and bars was extended from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Alcohol sales from liquor stores and other establishments can also continue until 11 p.m., after nearly a year of being limited to a 9 p.m. stop time.
Other industries, such as performance venues, health and fitness centers, movie theaters and personal services, can also increase to 50% capacity, with no more than 50 people within any one space and 20 people in indoor fitness classes, the city announced.
“We have made incredible progress in recent weeks and months, and I thank our business community for their ongoing commitment to saving lives,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “I am thrilled that we have reached 50% capacity, but I again call on all of our businesses and residents to double down on what works. We must remain diligent as we continue to move forward cautiously and responsibly.”
For restaurants, bars and event spaces, regulations that remain in place include:
- Food must be available at all times in order to offer indoor service. This means that bars, taverns or breweries without a food license can reopen indoors as long as they 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).
- Maximum of six patrons at indoor or outdoor tables.
- Patrons can sit at bars, with six feet of social distancing between parties.
- Face coverings must be worn at all times, except when patrons are seated and actively eating or drinking.
- Patrons must be seated whenever they are eating or drinking.
- Tables must be six feet apart.
The expansion of indoor service comes after the city reached what it says is at least a "moderate risk level" in four health metrics.
Those metrics, and where the city stands currently, are as follows:
- COVID cases diagnosed per day: currently averaging 283, in the “Moderate-Risk” level.
- COVID test positivity: currently averaging 2.9%, in the “Lower-Risk” level
- Emergency Departments visits for COVID-like illness: currently averaging 42 per day, in the “Lower-Risk” level
- ICU beds occupied by COVID patients: currently averaging 103, in the “Moderate-Risk” level
"Although we're at one in eight people who have gotten at least that first dose of vaccine, I think we're we're less than 7% of the city has gotten both vaccines, so we're not even at 10% of the city," Arwady said. "And we're just not at a point and we're not even in a lower risk category in terms of number of cases. If you're going to be out, you know, please just wear the mask. Keep practicing caution