Chicago loosens COVID outdoor restrictions, maintain most indoor rules

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Even with COVID cases rising, Chicago health officials announced Thursday they are loosening restrictions on outdoor activities and spaces.

Chicago is loosening outdoor capacity limits for restaurants and bars, which can now seat 10 people per table, as long as they're six feet apart.

Most current indoor capacity limits will remain in place across industries. Indoor capacity at bars, restaurants, social events, performance venues, seated spectator events, places of worship and other establishments will remain limited to the lesser of 50% capacity or 50 people per room or floor. In each setting, 6 feet of physical distance must be maintained among different parties, meaning that facilities may need to operate at a lower capacity to achieve 6 feet among all parties.

In order to ensure consistency across industries, indoor fitness class capacity will now increase to the lesser of 50% or 50 people per room, provided that 6 feet of social distancing can be maintained among patrons and face coverings are worn at all times.

While the changes are only for outdoor spaces, many business owners say with the weather warming up, the timing couldn't be better.

FULL LIST: Chicago's updated COVID-19 guidelines by industry/activity

It's welcome news at City Winery. Their Riverwalk and West Loop locations are an al fresco favorite.

"It's a step in the right for City Winery and for all of Chicago's restaurants, and we need good news," said Dan Conroe, marketing director, City Winery. "This gives us a lot more flexibility in the types of events that we can hold, and it's great for the event clients, people planning weddings in 2020. We really, really feel for them to have to just change their plans or make tough decisions about who's invited."

The changes also mean more customers on the patio at Orso's Restaurant in Old Town.

"Restaurants are struggling right now, and so every little bit definitely helps us move ourselves forward back to where we need to be," said Nick White, general manager at Orso's.

The moves comes amid a rise in COVID cases in the city and state over the past couple weeks. Chicago is now averaging 370 new daily cases, up 24% in a week, and approaching the "high risk" number of 400.

"Over the last few weeks we have seen increases across our metrics, and I am concerned," CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. "But we are making some moves in outdoor settings, recognizing that in outdoor settings where people, where the ventilation is naturally very good, as long as people are doing the masking and doing the social distancing."

Theaters, performance venues, and the city's ballparks are also allowed higher outdoor capacity. At Guaranteed Rate Field and Wrigley, they're going to go from 20 to 25 percent capacity.

CDPH will evaluate the metrics again in one week to determine if and how Chicago could loosen regulations and move to a "Bridge to Phase 5."

  • Bars and Restaurants: Maximum outdoor table size can increase to ten people, with tables set up so that patrons are six feet from patrons at other tables

  • Social Events (e.g. weddings, potlucks and other community events): Total outdoor capacity can increase to the lesser of 50% or 100 people

  • Performance Venues, Theaters and Seated Spectator Events: Outdoor venues with capacity greater than or equal to 200 can operate at 25% capacity. Smaller venues can operate at no more than 50% capacity or 50 people.

  • Outdoor Recreation: Maximum groups of 50; multiple groups permitted

  • Places of Worship: No outdoor capacity limit provided that six feet of social distancing is maintained between parties

  • Health and Fitness Centers: Outdoor classes can increase to 100 people
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