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Chicago Will Ban Indoor Bar Service to Combat Second Wave of COVID-19

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Restaurants are required to close dining rooms by 10 p.m.

Two women sit at an outdoor table drinking beside a large patio heater
Chicago bars are restricted to outdoor service for two weeks.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Citing a surge in Chicago’s daily COVID-19 case rate, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday that she is once again banning indoor service at bars that do not have retail food licenses in the city, and all liquor sales, including to-go cocktails, must stop by 9 p.m.

The city is also instituting a business curfew that requires restaurants to close dining rooms at 10 p.m., which will be in place for two weeks in an effort to curb a second wave of the virus. Takeout can continue past 10 p.m.

“We’re taking these steps now — they go into effect tomorrow — but if we need to take further steps and go back to Phase Three or even go back to shelter in place, I won’t hesitate to do that,” Lightfoot says, “I hope that won’t be necessary, but it’s all in your hands.”

Essential businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, hospitals, and others, aren’t subject to a curfew, but non-essential establishments must remain closed from 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BCAP) will be enforcing the regulations, and violators could face fines up to $10,000, or in extreme cases, closure, according to a news release.

These policies come two days after Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker halted indoor restaurant service in Chicago’s western and southern suburbs, and three days after Lightfoot declared that a second wave of the pandemic has hit the city. On Thursday, Chicago health department commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady reported that an average of 645 cases are being reported per day — a 54 percent increase from last week — with a positivity rate of 6.4 percent. The city’s COVID dashboard has confirmed 90,722 total cumulative cases as of Tuesday.

Arwady also expounded upon what she called a “pretty strong theory” that bars are not only places where individuals frequently remove masks and interact with others outside their own household, but also some of the loudest spaces where people gather. The virus can spread through these loud exchanges, just as it can among those singing or exercising without a mask.

Lightfoot’s capacity mandate is a stark reversal from expansions in the summer and early fall, when the city increased indoor dining capacity from 25 percent to 40 percent, with a maximum of 50 people in a room. Bar hours were extended to 1:30 a.m. at that time, and bars without food licenses were allowed to offer indoor service.

State health department director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, appearing with Gov. Pritzker on Tuesday, singled out restaurants and bars as some of the riskiest sites for possible infection. The other most vulnerable locations identified via contact tracing were work and school: two spheres the state can’t control, Ezike said, as local officials in Illinois are determining school policies and working from home is out of the question for many.

Lightfoot said little about the impact these regulations will have on the city’s already beleaguered hospitality industry during her Thursday announcement. In an interview with the Sun-Times, however, she acknowledged that the moves will exacerbate the economic hardships bar owners are already experiencing.

Thursday’s developments put additional pressure on Chicago bar owners to coordinate some kind of outdoor dining. Domes, pods, tents, and other structures have already begun popping up in various neighborhoods, but can be costly to heat and repair. Even if all goes well, it’s difficult for owners to anticipate whether customers will be willing to venture out at all.

  • Another COVID clampdown in Chicago; bars banned from serving customers inside, restaurants under 10 p.m. curfew [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Illinois to Halt Indoor Restaurant Service in Western and Southern Suburbs [ECHI]
  • Lightfoot: Don’t Scapegoat Chicago Restaurants for COVID-19 Second Wave [ECHI]
  • Chicagoans Seated at Restaurants Will Have to Wear Masks Unless They’re Eating [ECHI]
  • More Than 50 Bars Ask Mayor Lightfoot for COVID-19 Relief [ECHI]