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Illinois Restaurants May See COVID-19 Restrictions Return Next Week

While not a mandate, the state health department now recommends folks in public places, like restaurants, to mask up indoors

Last year, signs like these were familiar.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Diners could soon be once again required to wear facial coverings inside restaurants in Illinois. As COVID-19 rates within the state increase, following a trend seen in other parts of the country, the Illinois Department of Public Health wants residents in “areas with substantial and high transmission” — primarily public indoor spaces — to resume wearing facial coverings.

There’s no government mandate, though there’s concern that one could be intituted early next week. The health department’s announcement matches recommendations put out earlier on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also stressed that teachers and students at K-12 schools should mask up even if they’re fully vaccinated.

Tuesday afternoon’s news from the IDPH wasn’t a surprise to Illinois Restaurant Association CEO & President Sam Toia. He acknowledged that Chicago will soon surpass the 200 daily cases of COVID-19. In a New York Times interview, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’d consider bringing back the mask mandate if the COVID-19 cases consistently hit that number. The delta variant, which is more transmissible, is driving up rates among those who aren’t vaccinated. However, health experts are also saying that the fully vaccinated could be spreading the disease, which is why mayors and governors across the country are considering bringing back mask requirements.

At a Tuesday news conference, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Awardy said she expected that the city would push past that 200-mark “within the next few days.”

A crowd of people.
There were few masks in the crowd in early July at Windy City Smokeout outside the United Center on the Near West Side.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Restaurants and bars have kept busy since the city and state removed COVID-19 restrictions in early June. Toia doesn’t anticipate that Lightfoot will enact restrictions sooner than early next week. “We have constant communication with the city and the state,” Toia says, adding: “I’m confident we’ll be able to keep things under control.”

The association has been monitoring what’s happened in other areas. Toia has keep in touch with his counterparts in Texas and Louisiana, two states that have seen large outbreaks. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, bar owners have come together to restrict unvaccinated customers from patronizing their venues. That’s sure to stir up critics who claim the mitigation policies are politically driven. That’s what happened in Georgia where congressperson and conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene turned to Twitter to blast an Atlanta restaurant’s “no vax, no service” stance.

Sounding like he did last year during the peak of the outbreak before scientists had developed vaccines, Toia repeated that public safety and the health of customers and restaurant workers remained the association’s No. 1 priority.

In West Town, Green Grocer Chicago has already brought back its mandatory mask policy for shoppers. Store ownership was worried about the delta variant and put up signs asking customers to mask up in mid-July.

Restaurants are waiting for Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker to take action before changing policy. If the delta variant leads to stricter mandates, Toia says the federal government will need to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Restaurant lobbyists are pushing the Biden camp to take action. Toia says only two-third of applicants received funds: “It’s been a rough 15 months,” Toia says.

Echoing city officials, Toia says vaccinations are the solution. About 51 percent of Chicagoans are fully vaccinated and Toia wants to see that number increase.

“If you haven’t gotten a vaccination, please go get vaccinated,” he says.

And in other news…

— Chicago-based Grubhub was working with the city to provide gift cards as incentives to get residents vaccinated. However, at her Tuesday news conference Chicago public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said they’ve swapped Grubhub for $25 Visa gift cards. Arwady said some residents didn’t have phones or Internet access to Grubhub services and that Visa cards were more useful. The program, which gives gift cards to folks as means to encourage vaccination, starts Monday and Chicagoans can sign up on the city’s website or by phone at (312) 746-4835.

Miami-based chef Nicole Votano is bringing her virtual modern Italian spot, Alla Vodka Shop, to Chicago touting a menu of “pink sauce” items like penne alla vodka, burrata with roasted red peppers, and mini cannoli. Votano will introduce her brand at the Little Italy Fest from Thursday, August 12 through Sunday, August 15 on Taylor Street. Festival goers can check out Votano’s limited-time Sundae Alla Vodka with three meatballs in pink sauce, whipped ricotta, and garlic bread.