Illinois, Chicago COVID case surge leaves restaurants struggling to find middle ground

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Tuesday, December 21, 2021
Restaurants struggle with COVID case surge
From voluntary closures to limiting dining options and more, restaurants are struggling to navigate the current surge in COVID cases.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois COVID cases are surging again, leaving restaurants and bars struggling with staffing and safety while trying to keep themselves afloat through winter.

In Lakeview East there's talks of restaurants and nightclubs voluntarily closing for a while around the holidays to stop the latest virus surge. Not all places are participating; Chicago Bagel Authority remains open now after doing some earlier closing and retooling.

"We closed for a month to completely rework everything we did," said George Slater, manager.

RELATED: Illinois reports 12,328 new COVID cases, 11 deaths as ICU beds fill up

The restaurant has done surprisingly robust business since focusing on takeout and commercial meal delivery from the beginning of the COVID era. Management said fighting the omicron variant while shutting down is a non-starter, but a vaccine passport detailing people's adherence to COVID-19 vaccine protocols might be worth a look.

"A lot of places that shifted, shifted their business model, shifted their focus and they have, including ourselves, thrived," Slater said.

The Illinois Restaurant Association said, "If a Chicago vaccine passport is instituted, we will advocate for policies that are as business friendly as possible and don't hinder our industry's very fragile recovery."

Michelle Mirzoian, who is immunocompromised, came down with COVID last week. The marketing executive was celebrating the 1st anniversary of her running group at a West Town brewpub.

"I have a little congestion still, and the headache comes in and out every so often, but for the most part my vaccine worked," she said.

Ten of the 15 people with her that night also got COVID. They were all double vaccinated and boosted to protect against the virus.

"In my mind, it is here and your vaccination might not stop you from getting it exactly, but it is definitely stopping the severity of what we saw in 2020," Mirozian said. "And we need to take care of each other in Chicago."

As vaccine passport discussions pick up again, you can expect to see more restaurants closed over the holidays due to COVID. The owner of Steingold's has elected to close for a few days after the owner caught the virus, even though he is also double vaccinated and boosted. Still, he pointed out he's not hospitalized and expects to open for online sales by Wednesday.

Illinois reported the most new confirmed COVID cases for one day in 2021 Monday, with more than 12,000 confirmed.