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Illinois Indoor Dining Inches Closer to Returning

Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he’s “cautiously optimistic” that some COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted next week

A food hall with customers.
Indoor dining has been banned in Chicago since October 30.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

UPDATE: Though lifting restrictions would bring the return of indoor dining closer, it will still take time. NPR’s Hannah Meisel reports that it would take three-straight days of a region to test with under a 6.5 percent COVID-19 positivity rate. Updated story follows. The headline has also been updated.

As the nation on Wednesday afternoon watched rioters storm the Capitol in Washington, D.C., in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker made an announcement that should grab the attentions of the restaurant industry and its customers: Indoor dining is closer to returning. During his Wednesday news briefing, the governor said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the state could lift some COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, January 15.

The entire state has been in “Tier 3” of its novel coronavirus mitigation plan since November 20. Indoor service at Chicago restaurants and bars was halted earlier; Pritzker suspended service on October 30. Tier 3 allowed for takeout and delivery and outdoor dining. Moving on from Tier 3 to Tier 2 still would not restore indoor dining. There are three tiers in the state’s mitigation plan.

NPR’s Hannah Meisel reports that it would take three-straight days of a region to test under a 6.5 percent positivity rate — which measures the number of COVID-19 tests that come back positive — until indoor dining is restored. A spokesperson for Gov. Pritzker’s office stressed that January 15 would be the earliest Tier 2 — which does not allow for indoor dining — could start.

From June 26 to October 30, indoor service took place in Chicago at a 25 percent maximum capacity. Indoor and outdoor service was initially halted on March 30 throughout Illinois.

Restaurant owners have been waiting for Pritzker to restore indoor dining, and have grown more desperate during a period when the federal government stalled in passing the coronavirus stimulus. The governor said he’s been reluctant to lift restrictions have talking to health experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Prtizker says Fauci and others advised him to be cautious during the holiday season, when families tend to hold large gatherings.

There was good news as Pritzker said Illinois “did not experience the post Thanksgiving uptick at a rate that plagued the rest of the country.” Experts continue to worry about Christmas and New Year’s gatherings that could lead to increased hospitalizations, so Pritzker says they’re waiting for data from those holidays; January 15 represents one incubation period from New Year’s Day.

“My prayer for the new year is for everyone to stay healthy and all of our regions continue to move in the right direction,” Pritzker said.

Before indoor dining was suspended in October, the Illinois Restaurant Association was lobbying Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to increase dining room capacity from 25 percent.

In other news, the state officially extended the mask mandate that expired on Monday until June 3.

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