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Lightfoot: Don’t Scapegoat Chicago Restaurants for COVID-19 Second Wave

The city is worried about card games and dinner parties at private residences

A masked goat.
The owners of Little Goat in West Loop masked its mascot on Randolph Street.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday declared that Chicago was in the midst of the pandemic’s second wave, the one that Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Americans about, and that Chicagoans don’t have the luxury of “COVID-19 fatigue” when battling the novel coronavirus. Lightfoot took no action Monday but said reverting to the city’s Phase Three restrictions — which could include restricting indoor dining — are a possibility.

The spike has increased worries as temperatures hover around freezing, forcing Chicagoans to spend more times indoors.

“Chicago cases are now increasing sharply with a rate of increase similar to what we saw in the first wave,” Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner for the city’s health department, said at a Monday morning media briefing from city hall.

Arwady said she expects within a few days that the city would be approaching a danger zone in terms of case count. The raw number of COVID-19 cases isn’t what’s alarming — it’s how fast that virus is spreading, Arwady said. Chicago sits at a seven-day rolling average of 508 daily cases and that number should increase to 600 later this week, Arwady said. The city is also seeing a 5.4-percent positivity rate and Arwady said officials will consider drastic actions if that latter number approaches 8 percent.

Health experts aren’t keen on indoor dining, ranking the activity as one of the riskiest when it comes to contracting COVID-19. The city recently increased indoor dining capacity at restaurants from 25 percent to 40 percent. When questioned if there was a link to the surge and indoor dining at restaurants, Lightfoot said “that’s not what we’re seeing in the data at all.” Lightfoot and Arwady said indoor dining was not powering the surge as COVID-19 is showing growth in a variety of sectors, hitting a variety of neighborhoods, infecting all races and age groups. That makes creating specific safety guidelines that target the source of the spread difficult, Lightfoot said.

“The truth is it’s happening across the board, across every age and gender, across north, south, and west sides,” the mayor said.

If indoor dining was the primary culprit, Lightfoot said she wouldn’t hesitate to reinstate tighter regulations. For the most part, Lightfoot said operators are following safety guidelines that are needed to continue to fight the virus. Instead, the city is worried about card games and dinner parties. Restaurants face heavy governmental regulations, but private residences don’t. Lightfoot also reminded Chicagoans how the virus thrives indoors. The mayor said she’s also concerned about reports of bar crawls that have the potential of spreading COVID-19.

“This is the worst possible time to let our guard down,” Lightfoot said.

Arwady said the city has been stricter with its restaurant rules compared to the rest of Illinois and that they’ve had a “very good and robust interaction” with restaurant industry leaders who “have by in-large done a very good job” with following mask wearing, spacing out tables, and keeping parties at no larger than six people per table. Arwady and Lightfoot empathized with business owners and cited balancing the economic impact of restricting restaurants with the need to keep the city safe.

“This will be tragedy for many of them,” Lightfoot said of COVID-19’s effects on small businesses. “But I got to do what is right to protect us from this virus.”