Chicago restaurant workers without preexisting conditions will be eligible to take a COVID-19 vaccine next week and more and more restaurants are posting help wanted ads in preparation of serving more diners — the Illinois Restaurant Association even plans a webinar for Thursday on the topic. There’s more sunshine around town, but the latest batch of COVID-19 numbers from the city threatens to dash that optimism. COVID-19 cases have spiked 23 percent within the week, and the city’s top doctor says the atmosphere reminds her of October.
October 29 is when the state halted indoor dining. The comparison comes as the latest spike is concentrated among 18 to 40 year olds — the fall saw a similar increase in that demographic. About 11 percent of Chicagoans are fully vaccinated, but as many — including service industry members — wait for a Monday, March 29 eligibility date, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady says she’s “very concerned about the short term,” meaning the next four to eight weeks.
Despite that concern, COVID-19 is being better managed in Chicago: the city’s positivity rate — the number of tests that come back positive — at less than 5 percent. There have been increases in other cities. For example, in Detroit, the rate has doubled in the last three weeks. There’s also a report of a death of a restaurant worker in his 40s.
The simplest response for Chicagoans is to stay vigilant: to continue to wear masks, observe social distancing rules, and to limit exposure to larger groups.
“Keep your guard up against COVID-19,” Arwady says. “It is too early for us to think COVID-19 is over.”
Many of the new cases have been traced to sports leagues, according to Arwady. The city is not blaming restaurants and bars, but as past actions have shown, when numbers spike, health experts won’t hesitate to suspend indoor dining — thus cutting off any possible way the disease could spread.
State officials halted indoor dining in Chicago on October 29. It returned on January 23 with a 25 percent maximum capacity limit. Elected officials have slowly increased that number since. The current maximum is a 50 percent capacity per room or 50 people, whatever is smaller.
- As COVID-19 Cases Rise 23% in a Week, Chicago’s Top Doctor Says She is ‘Really Worried’ [WTTW]
And in other news...
— Chicago officials haven’t yet confirmed whether they’ll allow large events this summer, but that hasn’t stopped organizers of festivals like Pitchfork, Riot Fest, and Ruido Fest from submitting more than 240 permit applications to the Chicago Park District for 2021, according to Block Club Chicago. Even the most optimistic operators are aiming for late summer or fall events, with Pitchfork tentatively slated for September 10-12 in Union Park and Riot Fest planned for September 17-19 in the newly renamed Douglass Park (the same site as past years). Food vendors and other businesses that usually make hay of the summer festival season will have to wait for answers.
— Chicago Restaurant Week kicked off on Friday with organizers donating $5,000 to Michael “Chef Mike” Airhart, founder of local nonprofit Taste for the Homeless, according to a rep. Airhart has spent eight years working to help feed and clothe unhoused Chicagoans. Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism arm, decided this year to replace the First Bites Bash that usually marks the start of Restaurant Week with a “First Give” charitable event to highlight Airhart’s efforts. Chicago Restaurant Week 2021 runs through April 4.
— Kevin Miles, the Chicago-born actor now known to millions of TV-watching Americans as friendly insurance salesman “Jake from State Farm,” is marking one year as the iconic commercial character. Miles moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting eight years ago, but tells the Tribune that he still misses the hearty foods of his old stomping grounds on the South Side, calling out local favorites like Italian Fiesta, Giordano’s, Harold’s Chicken Shack, and Maxwell Street Polish sausages.