CHICAGO (CBS) — A day after announcing new COVID-19 restrictions in Will and Kankakee counties, due to rising positive test rates, Gov. JB Pritzker expanded the state’s mask requirement in restaurants and bars.
Pritzker said, starting Wednesday, all customers at restaurants and bars in Illinois must wear a mask covering their mouth and nose whenever they are interacting with waitstaff and other employees; including when placing orders, when food or drinks are brought to their table, or when picking up a carryout order.
“This new requirement asks a little bit more of our residents dining out, in order to protect their health and safety, and that of our frontline hospitality workers. Restaurateurs and bar owners want to remain open for business, and we want them to also, and this new requirement will help keep people safe while moving the economy forward,” Pritzker said.
Since May 1, the state has required anyone over age 2 to wear a mask in public places, if they are medically able to do so, but customers at bars and restaurants were allowed exceptions when they are eating or drinking at their table or bar.
The announcement of the new mask requirements at bars and restaurants came one day after the state announced stricter regulations would begin Wednesday in Will and Kankakee Counties — or Region 7 — to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, after that region of Illinois surpassed an 8% positivity rate for three days in a row, triggering tighter virus mitigation efforts.
The governor called that 8% positive test rate threshold “a danger signal that triggers new and stricter mitigations.”
“This is a red alert for everyone who lives and works here, and it demands a renewed effort to slow the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
Starting Wednesday, bars and restaurants in Will and Kankakee counties will not be allowed to provide indoor service. Outdoor service at bars and restaurants must close at 11 p.m., and reservations will be required. In addition, public gatherings will be limited to the lesser of 25 people or 25% of normal room capacity. Party buses also will not be allowed to operate, and gaming facilities and casinos must close by 11 p.m.
“None of these rules are intended to punish or to irritate anyone. They are imposed with a sincere desire to keep the people of Will and Kankakee counties safe and healty. Look, this virus is insidious. It’s a creeping menace that can either make you very sick, or cause death, and it may also be carried by you and given to your friends and family even if you don’t feel sick,” Pritzker said.
The governor said the new rules will mean outdoor bar and restaurant table service may stay open, but all customers must remain seated, and reservations will be required. Bar stools must be removed to make sure there is no ordering, seating or congregating at bars.
Similar restrictions could also be imposed next week in Region 4 of Illinois, the Metro East area, even though that region was the first in Illinois to surpass an 8% positivity rate for three days in a row. Pritzker said Region 4 surpassed that threshold last week, but the state agreed to hold off on imposing stricter mitigation rules for two weeks after consulting with local health officials, who wanted to work with St. Louis to come up with similar standards on both sides of the Mississippi River.
“They pointed out to us that they believed that if we set some slightly different set of mitigations around bars and restaurants, that that would be effective. And listening to them, we felt like because they had been in communication with folks in St. Louis, and had seen some of the challenges of being right on the border, that maybe that was a good idea to listen to them and follow their suggestion,” he said.
Pritzker said he now admits it was a mistake to agree to hold off on stricter COVID-19 rules for Region 4.
“I will readily admit that that was not a good idea, and that it appears now that we want to put those mitigations exactly in place as we had originally intended,” the governor said.
Meantime, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced 1,680 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 29 additional confirmed deaths.
As of Tuesday, the state has now had a total of 223,470 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 7,917 deaths.
The new cases come as IDPH reported 40,859 virus tests in the past 24 hours, for a one-day positivity rate of 4.1%. The seven-day statewide positive test rate for the past week stands at 4.1%, compared to 3.6% a month ago, and 2.5% in early July.
As of Monday night, 1,549 COVID-19 patients were being treated in Illinois hospitals, including 345 in intensive care, and 135 on ventilators. The state’s coronavirus hospitalization figures have been relatively flat this summer, even as overall cases have steadily risen since mid-June.
So far, the vast majority of COVID-19 patients have recovered from the disease, with a 95% statewide recovery rate as of Tuesday. The state’s recovery rate calculates the number of people who have tested positive for the virus, and have survived at least 42 days after their test.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said part of the reason virus cases have been rising over the last several weeks in Illinois is too many people are not wearing masks when they go out in public, or not wearing them properly to make sure they are covering both their mouth and nose.
“Stop wearing your face coverings incorrectly. You’re literally contributing to infection transmission by doing so, and by contributing to infection transmission, potentially to an additional life that will be lost,” Ezike said. “To the people that say face coverings don’t work, you are simply wrong. It doesn’t matter what video you saw on the Internet, or the fake headline you read, please know that face coverings do save lives, but they must be used in conjunction with social distancing and hand-washing.”