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Chicago, Once Again, Requires Masks to Eat Indoors at Restaurants

The city’s indoor mask mandate returns Friday to bars and restaurants

A bouncer with mask outside a bar taking temps of two masked customers.
The mask mandate returns Friday in Chicago.
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.

Chicago diners and bar patrons will once more be required to wear facial coverings — regardless of their vaccination status — while dining indoors, according to a city news release. The mandate begins Friday.

The news comes as COVID-19 numbers, powered by the delta variant, surge nationwide — Chicago reported an average of 419 daily cases, more than double the standard Mayor Lori Lightfoot set last month when the city instituted its mask advisory. Lightfoot had told the New York Times that she’d reconsider a mask mandate if daily cases were higher than 200.

Tuesday’s announcement strengthens July’s advisory to make wearing masks mandatory for those over the age of 2. Coverings can be removed while eating or drinking. The mandate also applies to gyms and shared areas in apartment and condo building.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady stressed that non-vaccinated individuals face the most risk. About 54.2 percent of people are fully vaccinated in Chicago. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, and some breakthrough cases — instances of those vaccinated being stricken by the diseases — have been reported. But the vaccine is highly effective, and health experts are urging doubters to make their communities safer by getting vaccinated.

Restaurants and bars in Chicago have been operating without pandemic restrictions since June. When rumors swirled about renewed mitigations back in July, restaurant and bar owners worried that the city would bring back capacity limits and social distancing rules. There’s no word if any of those restrictions will return.

Illinois Restaurant Association CEO & President Sam Toia was relieved the announcement didn’t include capacity restrictions: “It could have been much worse,” he says. He anticipated the mandate and says when he’s been at restaurants, he’s been wearing a mask. He’s hopeful numbers will decline by September.

“The best way to combat this latest surge is for everyone to voluntarily get the free and effective vaccination,” Toia says.

The city has hosted a few large-scale outdoor events — Windy City Smokeout and Lollapalooza. Chicago health experts have said neither ended up being super-spreader events. Of the 385,000 or so who attended, the city says 203 were infected due to attending the three-day event.

Several restaurant owners worried that these events would eventually lead to masks and restrictions that have harmed their businesses since Gov. J.B. Pritzker suspended on-premise dining back in March 2020.

Other cities across the country — New York was the first — have mandated that diners show proof of vaccination. New York’s mandate started on Monday. Chicago officials have said they’re interested in such a policy, but have remained reluctant to take action. One challenge facing a statewide policy is that, unlike the state of New York, Illinois currently lacks a vaccine passport app.

Still, there’s a growing list of restaurants and bar owners that are requiring proof of vaccines to dine at their establishments. Lightfoot praised those restaurants for taking action without a requirement. Critics pointed out that this was yet another instance of elected officials failing to lead, forcing hospitality workers to sort out the risks themselves without direction.

  • Chicago Restaurants Brace For Next Week [Eater Chicago]
  • Breakthrough cases aren’t the cause of the US Covid-19 surge [Vox]
  • Lollapalooza not ‘superspreader’ event, says city’s top public health official [Sun-Times]
  • NYC’s Indoor Dining Vaccine Mandate Begins Today [Eater NY]
  • Just Mandate the Vaccine for Indoor Dining Nationwide [Eater]