Chicago eases COVID-19 restrictions, limits amid dropping cases; changes take effect Thursday

Indoor capacity limits will be raised to 40% for certain businesses

ByMichelle Gallardo, Leah Hope, Jessica D'Onofrio, and ABC 7 Chicago Digital Team via WLS logo
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
City updates COVID-19 business restrictions, limits
EMBED <>More Videos

Breweries, taverns, bars and other establishments that serve alcohol without a food license may reopen with limited indoor seating.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The City of Chicago announced updated restrictions for bars and restaurants effective Thursday.

Indoor capacity limits will be raised to 40% for certain businesses, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday.

Business owners said that, for now, they'll take whatever they can get. But for some, the increase from 25% to 40% won't make much difference, if at all.

"Today we're coming together to announce that our city has made sufficient progress in the fight against COVID-19 to ease some of the restrictions on our businesses," Lightfoot said.

Breweries, taverns, bars and other establishments that serve alcohol without a food license may reopen with indoor seating, at 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer.

No more than six people will be allowed at a single table, and room capacity will still be 50 customers within one space.

Customers must remain seated while eating or drinking and will not be permitted to order at the bar, Lightfoot said.

Parties will be limited to two hours of service, according to the updated restrictions.

"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," Lightfoot said in a statement.

Bars will also be permitted to reopen for indoor service and serve alcohol until 1 a.m., Lightfoot said.

Tim Polk is the manager of the longtime neighborhood watering hole, which earlier this month added a food license and small pizza oven.

The addition came after the city in July restricted indoor service for bars that don't serve food.

The rollback of those restrictions meant bars and restaurants can serve alcohol until 1 a.m. instead of 11p.m.

"Couple hours is huge, and going from 25% up to 40% capacity is, yeah, it makes a big difference," Polk said.

"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," said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. 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."

"It's just been 14 days that our percent positivity is under 5% and we wanted to work to be able to have some expansion like with the hours, like with the capacity, but we do want to keep for now that limit of 50 per room," Arwady said.

And while the increased capacity limits are certainly good news for some, for others like restaurant owner Laura Gutierrez it won't make a bit of difference.

A staple of the Little Village neighborhood for over 40 years, Nuevo León restaurant would usually be full to bursting during the lunch hour.

Not these days.

At 25% she's already at the maximum capacity allowed per room, which is 50 people. That cap, for now, remains in place which means, she's not allowed any increase.

"We still have to pay our taxes, we still have to pay employees and whether we make it or not it's going to be our own issue to deal with, but we are following the guidelines. We are doing what we have to do. I don't understand why the city won't take away the cap and let us do 40% without the cap," Gutierrez said.

Restaurant owners have voiced concern over the 50-customer limit, particularly as the weather in Chicago cools and outdoor dining becomes limited.

RELATED: City of Chicago releases fall, winter outdoor dining guidelines; IRA expects many restaurants to close

"When your cap is 50, you have nobody. You're in trouble. So most restaurants will close as soon as the weather drops," said Sam Sanchez who owns the popular Old Crow and Moe's Cantina restaurants in River North last week.

"The next few months will be critical for Chicago's hospitality industry as we work to survive a once-in-a-lifetime crisis," said Sam Toia, President and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association in a statement Monday. "Increased capacity and longer hours will mean more jobs, greater opportunity for revenue, and a path towards stability for our restaurants. We are committed to continuing to prioritize the health and safety of our workers and patrons as we take this essential next step in our economic recovery."

Customers will also be permitted to remove face masks for personal services, such as facials or shaves, for a short period of time.

At Cleise Brazilian Day Spa in River North the phones have not stopped ringing.

"We have a waiting list, and the clients already putting their name in. First availability! First availability," said Cleise Gomes, the owner of Cleise Brazilian Day Spa.

But the city is asking that facials last no longer than 15 minutes.

Health and fitness class sizes limits will increase from 10 to 15 people on Oct. 1.

The City also announced a partnership with the reservation app Tock, which will be able to aid in contact tracking efforts should an outbreak be detected at a restaurant.

And at restaurants and bars, customers are required to wear their masks while not eating or drinking.

"I know that this requirement is a pain in the butt. Let's just be blunt about it. But it's absolutely necessary to protect you, protect other diners, and importantly protect the workers coming to your table," Lightfoot said.