Two months after state officials halted indoor dining, portions of Illinois can now resume on-premise, indoor service as Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the health department have loosened COVID-19 restrictions. Regions 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 of the state’s novel coronavirus recovery plan — have met the state’s guidelines to allow indoor dining (at a 25 percent capacity). That means five of 12 regions now qualify for indoor dining, affecting towns including Carbondale, Springfield, Champagne, and Galesburg.
Experts are predicting that Chicago’s restaurants could soon join them, and on Monday the city officially expanded its vaccination distribution program to include older residents. Restaurants in Chicago — in Region 11 of the state’s plan — halted indoor service on October 30.
Dining rooms at restaurants in Chicago and suburban Cook County will stay closed, waiting for the COVID-19 positivity rates to dip — that’s the number of tests that return positive. Chicago’s seven-day rolling average is 8.1 percent. (Update: As of Tuesday night that number is 7.7 percent). The state requires a rate of 8 percent or lower to advance to Tier 1 where indoor dining would resume.
Over the weekend, Chicago moved to Tier 2 restrictions, allowing for the return of group fitness classes and gatherings of 10 people. Casinos and museums can also reopen, which has irked many in the restaurant industry who feel eating a meal at a restaurant is safer than sitting at a Blackjack table or wandering indoors through an art gallery. After reaching Tier 1, the state would revert to its original COVID-19 response plan, which shifts from tiers to phases — a region could then advance to Restore Illinois’s Phase 4.
Phase 4 requires three-straight days with a COVID-19 positivity rate below 6.5 percent, no “sustained increase” in hospitalizations, and a drop in patients occupying ICU and staffed hospital beds. On Sunday, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced it would update how it counted hospitalizations to reflect increased staffing at hospitals. The Illinois Restaurant Association noted how that adjustment would bring several regions, including Chicago, inline with numbers to allow increased indoor dining.
Illinois Restaurant Association board member Kevin Vaughan — owner of Vaughan Hospitality Group — shared his frustrations in how the state was assessing safety. Beyond positivity rate, Pritzker and the health department worrying medical facilities are overburdened treating COVID-19 without space to treat patients suffering from other illnesses. There were reports over the weekend of patients that were sent home from hospitals including at Rush Medical Center, as the facility did not have enough beds. Meanwhile, Vaughan also writes that he took a test, hoping that a negative result would help drop the positivity rate and trigger the return of indoor dining.