CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Sheraton Grand Hotel in downtown Chicago reopened for business Monday as the state moves closer to a full reopening on Friday.
The massive hotel and event space has been closed since March of last year, but with the state about to fully reopen, the Sheraton Grand finally welcomed back guests.
The hotel officially cut the ribbon Monday morning as businesses throughout Illinois prepare for the state's full lifting of COVID-19 capacity limits and social distancing rules.
"We are rebuilding our business. Our weekends are going to be very busy. Our weekdays will be slower," general manager Mark Lauer said.
Many large hotels like the Sheraton have been waiting until protocols were mostly lifted to begin serving guests, since their moneymaker is mostly from large events.
"The city and the state gave the customers confidence that they can meet in Chicago and we can do it well," Lauer said.
Staff members coming back after the more than one-year hiatus will have to hit the ground running.
"The team is ready, but we are going to test it right off the box," Lauer said.
Chicago is lifting COVID-19 capacity limits and social distancing rules along with the rest of Illinois on Friday, three weeks ahead of schedule.
"As of this Friday, Chicago will be the largest city that is fully open in America," said Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar, City of Chicago. "The real big change is that the capacity limits will be going away. So, businesses might still have some of the mask mandates, but people can be open for business and they can fill the house."
Visitors are booking trips to the windy city. With the spike in foot traffic, hotel bookings and restaurant reservations are disappearing fast -- all signs the economy is heading in the right direction.
"People are really ready to get out of their pandemic pajamas and be out in the streets experiencing the best summer anywhere in the world," Mayekar said.
To kick off the next phase, tourism industry leaders are in Chicago for the largest convention since before the pandemic. The Hospitality and Tourism Summit will bring hundreds of people to Navy Pier, but staffing remains a challenge. There are not enough people applying to work in hotels, restaurants, and other attractions.
"It is hand-to-hand combat trying to find people that can work in the industry," said Tim O'Malley, CEO, Ateema Media and Marketing.
Clinical immunologist Dr. Zachary Rubin warned that the full reopening does not mean fully back to normal.
"I still think it's important in major gatherings, especially folks who are not vaccinated, to still wear a mask because these events are going to get quite large and so transmission will still happen," he said.
Rubin says if case and hospitalization rates start trending the wrong way we could see restrictions return. But for now, the state and city looking toward a full reopening on Friday.
A reminder to the public that even though mask mandates will ease up for people who are fully vaccinated, mask will still be required on public transit, in hospital settings and individual businesses can still enforce their own rules.