City Eases Restrictions on Outdoor Businesses Amid Increase in COVID-19 Cases, Illnesses

Chicago will not allow businesses to increase their capacity indoors amid an “alarming” increase in COVID-19 cases and illnesses, but they will be allowed to serve more customers outside, officials announced Thursday.

“We are seeing a very disturbing trend,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters. “We don’t see a downward trend in the short term.”

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The increase is concentrated among young adults ages 18-39 in North Side neighborhoods including Lincoln Park and Old Town, and Far Northwest Side neighborhoods including Dunning, Portage Park and Old Irving Park.

“COVID is real,” Lightfoot said. “It has not gone away from our city.”

An average of 365 Chicagoans have been diagnosed each day with the coronavirus during the past week, a 23% increase from the previous week, according to Chicago Department of Public Health data. The city’s test positivity has risen from 2.9% to 3.4% during the past seven days, according to city data. 

There have been more than five consecutive days of at least a 10% increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, and emergency room visits for COVID-like illness have increased by 38% in the past seven days, according to city data.

That increase means the city cannot ease rules that limit most businesses to serving no more than 50 people indoors, or no more than 50% of their normal capacity, officials said.

However, because COVID-19 is less likely to spread outside, the city said it makes sense to allow restaurants and bars to serve more customers outside, Lightfoot said, rejecting concerns that it could send a mixed message to Chicagoans. 

“We can be a lot more targeted in our interventions,” Lightfoot said.

The mayor said she was reluctant to reduce the capacity of bars and restaurants because they are “barely on life support.”

If the increase continues, more restrictions will be put in place, but officials will be “strategic,” Lightfoot said.

Everyone must continue to wear masks when not eating or drinking.

Under the new rules, which take effect Thursday, a maximum of 10 people can be seated at a table, as long as each table is 6 feet away from others.

A maximum of 100 people can now attend outdoor social events, including weddings, or 50% of the space’s normal capacity, according to the rules.

Outdoor venues with a normal capacity of 200 people or more can operate at 25% capacity, under the new rules, while smaller venues are limited to no more than 50% capacity or 50 people, according to the rules.

Outdoor recreation is limited to groups of 50 participants, while outdoor fitness classes can increase to 100 people, according to the rules.

There is no outdoor capacity on outdoor worship services, but six feet of social distancing is required between parties.

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

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