Plans Call for 130K Chicago Employees to Head Back to Work in Early June

Empty sidewalks and storefronts have become a common sight in Chicago during the COVID-19 pandemic, including this scene in the city’s Montclare neighborhood on the Northwest Side on April 21. (WTTW News)Empty sidewalks and storefronts have become a common sight in Chicago during the COVID-19 pandemic, including this scene in the city’s Montclare neighborhood on the Northwest Side on April 21. (WTTW News)

With city officials preparing to cautiously reopen Chicago’s economy as the peak of the coronavirus pandemic appears to have passed in Illinois, one-third of the city’s workforce could head back to their jobs in early June.

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But Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to restart Chicago’s economy by turning a dimmer switch — rather than flipping a light switch — means Chicagoans will face more restrictions than those who live in other parts of the state.

Approximately 300,000 Chicagoans have been unable to work since the pandemic hit, officials said. Approximately 130,000 could return to work once the next phase starts.

While most of Illinois is set to enter the third phase of the state’s reopening plan Friday, Chicago will not see restrictions eased until early June, and even then, nonessential businesses will face more limits.

Nonessential businesses in Chicago will be limited to 25% of their normal capacity, while those outside the city will be allowed to reach 50% of their regular capacity to ensure social distancing. The 25% cap in Chicago also applies to “common areas” in office buildings, officials said.

“Chicago is a dense city,” said Samir Mayekar, deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development. “We believe the 25% capacity restriction is the right place to start.”

The cap is designed to give shoppers and diners confidence that they can venture out safely, Mayekar said, and could be relaxed based on health data, he added.

Ten groups that included 200 people across a range of industries helped Lightfoot and her team develop reopening guidelines for the city. While the city cannot impose lighter restrictions than Gov. J.B. Pritzker, it can tighten the rules.

Chicago is still not testing enough people for the respiratory virus while too many tests continue to come back positive to lift restrictions, Lightfoot said.

Outdoor dining, barbershops, hair and nail salons can reopen for the first time since March once Lightfoot gives the all-clear to move into the third phase of her plan. 

In addition, child care centers, park facilities west of Lake Shore Drive including golf courses, libraries and hotels are set to reopen under phase three, Lightfoot said.

Restaurants that want to offer outdoor dining for the first time must get a sidewalk cafe permit from the city, which starts at $600 per year, officials said.

Social gatherings will be limited to no more than 10 people, with everyone encouraged to stay 6 feet apart and wear a face covering, Lightfoot said.

Complaints about businesses not following the city’s rules can be made by calling 311, and city inspectors will perform “spot checks,” officials said.

“We stand ready to enforce the rules,” Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareño said.

Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi said officials will monitor Chicago’s buses and trains to avert overcrowding, and companies are being encouraged to allow employees to work staggered schedules to reduce passenger loads during the morning and evening rush hours. 

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]


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