WATCH: Mayor Lightfoot announces loosening Chicago COVID restrictions
Lightfoot announced the launch of "Open Chicago," the latest initiative to safely reopen the city, at Navy Pier Thursday. The pier is slated to reopen Friday.
Open Chicago's initial programming will feature activated, re-imagined and pop-up spaces for Chicago residents to enjoy, according to a news release from the mayor's office. These spaces will either build on ongoing Chicago traditions, are expanded from programs that launched last year, or are new programs specifically crafted to get the city back into a new normal.
It should allow for the reopening of public amenities and private venues; activating public spaces with arts, culture and recreation; expanding outdoor dining; and ensuring businesses can return to offices and in-person events, Lightfoot's office said.
"I am grateful to each and every City, community and business leader who partnered with us on this incredible initiative as well as our residents, who continue to follow public health guidance and keep our COVID-19 metrics low enough to launch efforts like these," the mayor said.
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Due to improvement in the city's reopening metrics and the ongoing distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine - two million doses administered in the city and counting - Chicago will be loosening Phase Four regulations to allow for higher capacity across industries effective immediately, Chicago officials said.
Arwady said the city is seeing positive signs in the fight against COVID-19, which could mean the return of summer activities very soon.
The reopening metrics have remained stable or decreased over the past two weeks, with Chicago's test positivity rate dropping to the "Lower-Risk level," below 5% earlier this week for the first time since late March, city officials said. ICU and non-ICU hospital capacity remains in the "Moderate-Risk level" despite the recent rise in cases.
"While this is an exciting moment, I have to warn everyone that we are not out of this pandemic yet, and we need to continue to be safe and smart. We need all Chicagoans to get the vaccine - it is available, it is safe and effective, and it is the best tool we have to stop the spread of COVID-19," Chicago Department of Public Health Director Dr. Allison Arwady said.
Under the new regulations:
Guests who are fully vaccinated will not count toward capacity limits at private events, such as weddings, in Chicago, effective immediately. Business owners will be responsible for verifying that exempted guests are fully vaccinated and keep records, the city said. The city will consider expanding this exemption to other industries in the coming weeks, provided that COVID-19 metrics continue to improve.
Krista Van Epps, a Chicago bride-to-be, and her fiancée planned a September 2020 wedding. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, they were forced to cancelled it and sent out change-of-date cards for August 7th, 202.
Now, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot's announcement Thursday to loosen restrictions in Chicago, Van Epps can now have more than 250 guests under the new Chicago health guidelines.
"The wedding that we actually planned and spent a whole year planning can actually happen- it's so exciting," said Van Epps. "And have everyone we want be able to join us."
Lightfoot announced large, indoor places of worship can operate at 25% capacity.
Van Epps is getting married at St. Michael in Old Town. It normally seats 1,800 people, meaning Van Epps 250 guests are well within guidelines.
Vaccinated guests will make a difference for those planning a wedding or other private events.
"Fully vaccinated guests won't count toward capacity at weddings and other private events for the very first time," Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced.
Weddings have been a particular concern, which Dr. Allison Arwady of the Chicago Department of Public Health addressed today.
"If you want to have a bigger wedding, which we have been hearing from a lot of you - make sure your guests get vaccinated, and you can have a bigger wedding safely," Dr. Arwady said.
Van Epps said their reception will be at the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile, which can now have the lesser of 25% capacity or 250 people for the event.
"I just feel happy that it will be the way that it's supposed to be," Van Epps said.
United Center will begin welcoming Blackhawks and Bulls fans back May 7.
The city is creating a $2 million program using CDBG funding to provide businesses in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods with grants to support expanded outdoor dining and safe spaces for consumers. In addition, the city is receiving $4 million in CDBG funding to support Plaza Streets and Shared Streets. Plaza Streets will convert excess pavement into usable community space for outdoor seating or programming by local community groups. It will also help improve the pedestrian experience and safety of these corridors.
The relaunch of the ninth season of Night Out in the Parks this summer will feature more than 100 of Chicago's talented artists and organizations performing in over 350 outdoor cultural arts events. This year's experience will reconnect diverse audiences across all of Chicago's 77 community areas with the arts and cultural landscape of the city.
Movie screenings in 100 parks will kick off on July 6 at Oakdale Park in the Washington Heights community.
For additional information about Night Out in the Parks, visit www.nightoutintheparks.com.
Buckingham Fountain will also soon be switched back on. Visit www.ComEd.com/SwitchOnSummer for more information.
Maggie Daley Park's 18-hole, Chicago-themed miniature golf course, and ribbon will be open daily, starting April 30.
Drive-in events at Soldier Field will also continue, in addition to other typical annual fundraisers.
The Shared Streets program, which closes local streets to through traffic, will be returning this year to provide people with more comfortable space to walk, bike and roll. The 2021 program will launch this Spring on Leland in the Lincoln Square neighborhood and will be expanded to other streets where there is community support.
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Windy City Smokeout will be the first street festival to return to the city's roster of summer events. The annual festival, which features dozens of local and national BBQ pitmasters and restaurants is expected to host up to 12,500 people per day. The outdoor fest will take place in the parking lot of the iconic United Center, with an impressive musical lineup featuring country superstars and up-and-coming talent.
All vendors, performers, ticketholders and staff will be required to be fully vaccinated. For non-vaccinated attendees, proof of a negative COVID PCR test will be required within 72 hours of entry to the event.
City officials reminded residents that 6-foot social distancing requirements and mandatory face coverings still remain in effect in Chicago.
If reopening metrics remain stable or continue to decrease for the next two weeks and Chicago reaches the criteria set by the state, the city will join the state in moving to the Bridge Phase.
Suburban Cook County also announced some restrictions easing Thursday.
Navy Pier has been closed since Labor Day.
Full reopening guidelines can be found at Chicago.gov/reopening.