‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Navy Pier

Chicago is loosening its pandemic restrictions, just a bit more.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot made the announcement Thursday at Navy Pier that the city will enter new phase four regulations that could have an impact on restaurants and bars, as well as theaters and places of worship.

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The new rules mean increased capacity across all industries, and Chicago’s Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Allison Arwady says they’re happening now because the city’s case numbers, positivity rates, hospitalizations and ICU admissions have fallen or stabilized. 

“Seeing those numbers go down or be stable is the ticket to reopening. This is happening, make no mistake, because people are getting vaccinated,” Arwady said. 

Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

What’s more, guests who are fully vaccinated will not count toward capacity limits at private indoor events, like weddings. 

Dr. Arwady makes the case and emphasizes the need to get vaccinated and encourage others to do the same in order for the city to keep turning the dial toward further reopening.

Because, while the city’s positivity rate is lower, at 4.7% percent, she and the mayor warn, Chicago is not out of the woods. 

“What we’ve seen too many times across the country, in other places is, this enthusiasm to reopen, we saw that a lot last summer, and people went to very high capacity levels, only to have to shut everything back down very quickly,” Lightfoot said. “Now, we’re in a different place than we were even last summer because we have the vaccine.” 

The mayor and health commissioner say that if these falling cases and stabilizing rates can all hold steady for the next two weeks, the city could join the state of Illinois in moving to the Bridge Phase, where restrictions are loosened even more.

That would be a welcome change for tourism businesses like Steve’s Segway Tours near the lakefront. 

Owner Steve Beier says he’s been in business for 14 years, and he and his tour guides take pride in being some of the best. 

Many of his guides are part of the gig economy and were able to keep working other gigs during the pandemic, but he’s felt like he’s hemorrhaging money, with few rare Segway tours — he’s lost 90 to 95% of his business. 

“A ghost town, or like part of a sci-fi movie is how some of my tour guides have described the eerie feeling of being on the Museum Campus, even at times today,” Beier said. 

Of course, he’s hopeful to see the return.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Architecture Center is still requiring masks on outdoor walking and boat tours and operating at a reduced capacity. But it’s already noticing a return in interest, if not a return to normal.

They say they’ve received quite a few calls from people looking to make reservations and walk-up business at the box office on weekends is steady.

President and CEO Lynn Osmond explains that architecture is the backbone of Chicago’s tourism

“It really signals the rebirth of what’s going on, both after the great fire but now the rebirth of the city as we look forward, post-pandemic,” Osmond said. “And it’s fun to see buildings like the St. Regis opening up, and the Salesforce tower. So, on the architecture river cruise, there’s lots of new buildings that have kind of crept up over the pandemic year.” 

Back at Navy Pier, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is aiming for a return to in-person live performances this fall. But in the meantime, they’ve continued producing online-only streaming plays, like “I, Banquo.”

“The only thing that matters to [us] is safety, and health, of everyone…that is everything, and once we are allowed to gather is slightly larger groups, I think that we will be gathering with joy, and we will be thrilled to see people back in this beautiful theater,” said artistic director Barbara Gaines. 

Video: Watch our full interview with Barbara Gaines.

On April 30, Navy Pier itself will follow the city and begin a “phased reopening” of some of its restaurants, businesses, and attractions. 

Video: Watch our full interview with Payal Patel, communications director at Navy Pier.

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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