by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producerBy CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday said Chicago restaurants and bars need to be allowed to reopen “as quickly as possible” not just to help those businesses survive, but also to cut down on instances of private parties where people don’t take proper precautions against COVID-19.

Under the state’s virus mitigation plan, Chicago’s restaurants and bars were forced to halt indoor service in late October. While Gov. JB Pritzker has said some regions of the state can begin rolling back some COVID-19 restrictions starting Friday if they meet certain virus thresholds, reopening of indoor dining wouldn’t happen until each region moves back at least three more phases, and Chicago is not yet on track to begin easing restrictions.

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Thursday morning, Lightfoot said she plans to have a conversation with Gov. JB Pritzker about how to begin rolling back virus mitigation efforts ASAP.

“I want to get our restaurants and bars reopened as quickly as possible,” she said.

Alfonso Jose Castillo, owner of Americanos, said his business will not survive if things continue as they are.

“We’re built to have people sitting inside, so if you take that away I don’t know how we’l manage,” he said.

Castillo said his community showed up big over the summer when to-go margaritas and outdoor dining kept them alive. But as soon as the temperatures dropped and the indoor dining ban took effect at the end of October, the outlook turned bleak.

Lightfoot noted the restaurant industry is highly regulated and would be “one of the safer places” for people to visit as state restrictions start to ease.

“They’ve gone above and beyond to put in mitigation controls inside of the restaurants,” Lightfoot said. “I feel very strongly that we are very close to a point when we should be talking about opening up our bars and restaurants.”

Restaurant group B. Hospitality Co., which includes B. Hospitality Co.The Bristol, Formento’s, Nonna’s, Swift & Sons and Cold Storage released the following statement regarding Lightfoot’s remarks:

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The employees and ownership of B. Hospitality Co restaurants including The Bristol, Formentos, Nonnas, Swift and Sons, and Cold Storage are thankful the mayor is considering opening restaurants to indoor dining once again.  It must be stated there is little to no open source data to the public on the % attributed directly to restaurants in causing COVID infections.  Kane County, IL is the only one documenting and that rate is 1.4% of the total infections in that county are attributed to restaurants.  For all we know the preponderance of the City of Chicago infections would likely come from the same Kane County figures where the majority of infections are due to nursing homes, assisted living and hospital interactions.
We as a restaurant group have added filters, UVC sterilizing wands, sanitizer for tables, PPE and followed all guidance when available by The City of Chicago.  It is the opinion of our company and several other restaurants to reopen to a minimum of 25% and preferably 40% to begin with on January 29th as we so believe in our mitigations to keep people safe, both staff and guests.  It is also the request of the entire industry for government on a city level to hand down further policy, or better practices to ensure each restaurant is following guidelines fully so as to avoid ever shutting down again.  The government will have had a year come this March to figure out through the Department of Health next steps in preventing COVID with ACTIVE RESTAURANTS that are open and functioning fully seated, or at some high degree of seating inventory (75-100%).  It is our request to prevent further shutdowns ever again transpiring knowing those better practices from CDPH are coming down from above to restaurants soon.  The costs far outweigh COVID infections as a pandora’s box is opened in the pain my employees feel with unemployment, depression, and all of the life threatening consequences that despair involves such as abuse, drugs and alcohol to cope with job reduction or loss.  These statistics are yet to be flushed out in the open arena.  Having had the conversations I’ve had with tough and inspiring restaurant folk that I know and love, its worse than COVID in the amount of destroyed or ended lives.   Mayor Lightfoot, do the right thing and allow restaurants to be the entertainment people need in a dark world, through a dark winter, and done safely.  Open restaurants January 29th to indoor dining again.

Castilo said he is anxious for the opportunity to show that his restaurant can reopen safely.

“I’m just glad we’re moving in that direction,” he said.

However, public health experts repeatedly have said bars and restaurants are among the riskiest places for catching the virus because eating and drinking require people to remove their masks for extended periods of time.

But the mayor said the ban on indoor dining and bar service has resulted in people engaging in risky behavior in private, holding underground parties at hotels, businesses, and elsewhere, without wearing masks or keeping a safe distance from other people to limit the spread of the virus.

She said reopening bars and restaurants would give people somewhere to go unwind where business owners can enforce the proper precautions.

“If we have people and give them an outlet for entertainment in the restaurant space, in the bar space, we have much more of an opportunity, in my view, to be able to regulate and control that environment,” Lightfoot said. “People are engaging in risky behavior that is not only putting themselves at risk, but putting their families, their co-workers, and other ones at risk. Let’s bring it out of the shadows. Let’s allow them to have some recreation in restaurants, in bars, where we can actually work with responsible owners and managers to regulate and protect people from COVID-19.”

Four of the state’s 11 regions — all outside of the Chicago area — currently are on track to move from Tier 3 to Tier 2 of the state’s COVID-19 mitigation plan on Friday, but that rollback would not allow for indoor dining.

Indoor dining and bar service would not be allowed in any region until they meet the requirements to lift Tier 3, Tier 2, and Tier 1 mitigations, and return to Phase 4 of the state’s Restore Illinois reopening plan.

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