CHICAGO (CBS) — With the city’s COVID-19 positivity rate at a record low, and the federal government ramping up distribution of vaccines, the city is again easing restrictions on restaurants, bars, and other businesses. Cook County officials said they will follow suit in the suburbs.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said restaurants and bars may now increase indoor capacity to 50% or 50 people per space, whichever is less. The limit had been 40% for the past two weeks.

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In addition, they may stay open and serve alcohol until 1 a.m. Until now, they had been required to cut off alcohol sales at 11 p.m. and halt on-site service at midnight.

Meantime, other limits for restaurants and bars remain in place, including:

  • Food must be available at all times in order to offer indoor service. This means that bars, taverns or breweries without a food license can reopen
    indoors as long as they 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).
  • Maximum of six patrons at indoor or outdoor tables.
  • Patrons can sit at bars, with six feet of social distancing between parties.
  • Face coverings must be worn at all times, except when patrons are seated and actively eating or drinking.
  • Patrons must be seated whenever they are eating or drinking.
  • Tables must be six feet apart.

In addition, liquor stores will now be able to sell alcohol until 11 p.m., after being required to cut off booze sales by 9 p.m. since last April.

 

Other industries, such as performance venues, health and fitness centers, movie theaters and personal services, can also increase from 40% to 50% capacity, with no more than 50 people within any one space. The city also is raising the limit on indoor fitness class sizes from 15 to 20 people per group.

“This progress can be attributed to the sustained effort that we have seen across all of our reopening metrics, because people are still adhering to the public health guidance. It makes all the difference in the world,” Lightfoot said Tuesday afternoon at City Hall.

The city’s 7-day average COVID-19 test positivity rate is down to 2.9%, the lowest it’s been since the start of the pandemic.

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“We have been trending in the right direction and I congratulate Chicagoans for continuing to do the right thing in helping us contain the spread of the virus,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement. ”We need to keep it up so we can continue to reopen our city safely and smartly, and get back to doing the things we love.”

Lightfoot also urged people to continue taking basic precautions against COVID-19, such as frequently washing their hands, and wearing a face covering and staying at least six feet away from other people in public, “so we can keep making progress and moving forward in our journey to recover from the pandemic and heal.”

The mayor’s office said restrictions could be eased further if the city can remain at the “moderate risk level” for another two weeks in terms of new COVID cases per day, test positivity rate, emergency room visits for COVID-like illnesses, and the number of ICU beds occupied by COVID patients.

  • COVID cases diagnosed per day: currently averaging 283, in the “Moderate Risk” level;
  • COVID test positivity: currently averaging 2.9%, in the “Lower Risk” level;
  • Emergency Department visits for COVID-like illness: currently averaging 42 per day, in the “Lower Risk” level;
  • ICU beds occupied by COVID patients: currently averaging 103, in the “Moderate Risk” level.

“We remain very cautiously optimistic that we are going to continue seeing this easing of restrictions,” said Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno. “As all of these COVID benchmarks and metrics are looking really good, we continue to urge diligence and caution as we continue to reopen.”

The city will also continue enforcing restrictions against large gatherings, and issuing fines and other penalties to businesses that violate COVID-19 rules.

Since last March, the city has conducted 8,729 investigations of reports of COVID-19 violations, and cited 452 businesses.

“We will be going out there to ensure that these large gatherings are not happening,” Escareno said. “We want to make sure that businesses understand that we are going to be taking the enforcement very seriously, and we are going to be addressing any of those issues with strong regulation.”

A spokesperson for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the Cook County suburbs will ease mitigation restrictions in line with the city’s new regulations.

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More information on Chicago’s plan for cautious reopening is available at chicago.gov/reopening.

CBS 2 Chicago Staff