Chicago COVID-19 restrictions ease: Drinking in bars allowed again

Mask dining

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Thursday is the first day you will be able to drink inside Chicago bars under relaxed rules.

Mayor Lightfoot, the Chicago Department of Public Health, and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection announced Monday that Chicago has made sufficient progress in the fight against COVID-19 to ease certain restrictions on businesses "and give them more ability to grow and to earn revenue as we start to head into winter months."

Starting Thursday, Oct. 1 at 5 a.m. the city of Chicago will ease five of its Phase Four guidelines for businesses, including:

Increased Indoor Capacity: Restaurants, health and fitness centers, personal services, non-essential retail and all other establishments that have been limited to 25 percent indoor capacity will now be able to increase their maximum indoor capacity to 40 percent. The limit of 50 total customers within one room or space at restaurants, venues and other establishments will remain in place, as will the limit of no more than six people per table.

Reopening of Bars: Breweries, taverns, bars and other establishments that serve alcohol without a food license may reopen with indoor seating, at 25 percent capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer. Service remains limited to no more than two hours per party, and customers must be seated when eating, drinking or ordering – patrons cannot walk up to the bar to order.

Extended Hours for Bars and Restaurants: Bars, restaurants and other establishments that serve alcohol will now be able to sell alcohol for on-site or off-site consumption until 1 a.m. and may remain open until 1:30 a.m. Liquor stores, grocery stores and other establishments that sell alcohol to-go through a Packaged Goods license must continue to cease alcohol sales at 9 p.m.

Increased Group Size: Maximum group size for health and fitness classes and after-school programming will increase from 10 to 15 people.

Expanded Personal Services: Facials, shaves and other personal services that require the removal of face coverings will be allowed.

While enough progress has been made to ease certain restrictions, Chicago remains in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and calls on all businesses and customers to continue following the Phase Four guidelines. In order to continue the significant progress, the following additional guidelines will also come into effect on Thursday, Oct. 1:

• When dining out at a food service establishment or bar, customers must always wear face coverings while seated, except when actively eating or drinking. This protects employees that may interact closely with patrons.

• Patrons at indoor bars, taverns and breweries must order from their seats – they cannot walk up to the bar to order.

• Bars, taverns and breweries that are reopening indoors must partner with a food establishment so that food is available to patrons at all times (e.g., making menus available and allowing delivery, allowing patrons to order from third-party delivery services).

• When taking reservations and seating walk-in customers, restaurants and bars should retain an email and/or phone number for possible contact tracing.

• Personal services that require the removal of face coverings are recommended to be kept under 15 minutes, and the employee conducting the service must always wear a face covering.

• All places of business should provide hand sanitizer for patrons and employees to use upon entry.

These changes build on Chicago’s status as one of the most open large cities in America and are possible due to continued improvement on crucial COVID health metrics, including a declining number of new daily cases, a test positivity rate now below 5 percent and the lowest rates of hospitalization and death in months.

“Over the past six months, we have asked so much of our business community. But each time, our businesses have stepped up to the plate," Mayor Lightfoot said. “Thanks to this cooperation, we have met this challenging moment with grace, commitment and resilience, and the sacrifices made by our businesses, workers and residents have saved countless lives. This next step in our reopening is good news for business owners as well as the communities they serve and the thousands of residents that work for them.”

Chicago is now seeing around 300 new COVID cases per day whereas in late August the city was over 350 cases per day and rising. Test positivity has fallen to 4.5 percent and severe outcomes have also improved, with hospitalizations from COVID lower than they’ve been since March and deaths at an average of two to three per day, when they were around 50 per day at the peak of the pandemic.

“Overall, we are heading in the right direction, and this affords us an opportunity to further re-open the city and to do so gradually and safely,” Arwady said in a statement. “But I can’t emphasize this enough: Chicagoans need to continue to follow the public health guidance – wearing masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home when sick – or we risk falling back and experiencing another rise in cases.”

Chicago health officials have warned that if the city reaches an average of 400 new cases per day, it would mark a return to Phase Three of its reopening framework.

Updated reopening guidelines can be found at chicago.gov/reopening.