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Illinois Health Department Urges Residents to Stay at Home as Patio Dining Continues

While not a formal stay-at-home order, health officials don’t like how metrics are trending

A greenhouse-like structure on the street where people are eating lunch.
Patio dining continues along Fulton Market.
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.

Buoyed by Tuesday statistics that showed Illinois has suffered the most COVID-19-related deaths since June, the Illinois Department of Public Health is urging residents for the next three weeks to remain at home unless leaving for grocery shopping, seeking medical care, or engaging in another essential activity. Restaurants can continue to serve customers outdoors — at least for the time being. The new guidance comes as doctors across the state are reporting hospital conditions similar to what Illinois experienced in March and April when the novel coronavirus led Gov. J.B. Pritzker to issue a stay-at-home order.

“For the next three weeks, stay home as much as possible, leaving only for necessary and essential activities, such as work that must be performed outside the home, COVID-19 testing, visiting the pharmacy, and buying groceries,” a news release reads.

Another 145 in Illinois were killed Tuesday by COVIID-19, according to state officials. The state suspended indoor dining on October 30 in Chicago as Pritzker halted on-premise dining county by county until all of Illinois was affected. Unseasonably warm November weather has allowed restaurants and bar to extend patio season, but restaurant owners say that’s not enough and they want the return of indoor dining. The Illinois Restaurant Association on Tuesday launched a campaign with graphics declaring “Illinois is the only state in the country where indoor dining is completely shut down.” The post was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram by Chicago chefs and accumulated nearly 1,000 likes on Instagram by Wednesday afternoon.

Pritzker instituted a stay-at-home order on March 20, but restaurant takeout, grocery stores, and other food businesses — including liquor stores — remained open. Three days before that, he halted on-premise dining. The order was extended multiple times until restaurants opened outdoor dining on June 3. Indoor dining, at a 50-person per room maximum or 25-percent capacity, returned on June 26. The reopening of restaurants was dependent on key health metrics, including COVID-19 positivity rate, which is the number of tests that return from the lab showing a patient tested positive for novel coronavirus.

Again, the health department’s new guidance isn’t an order. A news release says officials are hopeful that the state could deter the virus by the holidays. The news release also advises residents to work from home if possible. For the state’s service industry workers, that’s not possible, leaving few choices for restaurant owners trying to navigate the coronavirus’s second wave. Surges are affecting the entire country: On Tuesday, San Francisco officials followed Illinois’ lead and suspended indoor dining.