Mayor Lori Lightfoot pushing for Chicago bars and restaurants to reopen for indoor dining ‘as quickly as possible’

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday she wants the city’s bars and restaurants to reopen for indoor service “as soon as possible” and plans to discuss the issue with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, despite the fact that the city hasn’t met the state’s requirements for lifting the restrictions.

“I am very, very focused on getting our restaurants reopened. If we look at the various criteria that the state has set, we are meeting most if not all of those. So that’s a conversation that I will have with the governor,” Lightfoot said at a news conference about the city’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution sites. “But I want to get our restaurants and our bars reopened as quickly as possible.”


In fact, the city has not yet reached the metrics set by Pritzker’s administration.

On Thursday, Chicago’s test positivity stood at 10%, according to city statistics. Under the current pandemic rules, the city would have to have a positivity rate of 6.5% or less for three straight days in order for restaurants and bars to reopen.


Ultimately, it’s Pritzker who will make the decision about when bars and restaurants can reopen for indoor service. The city can set rules that are stricter than the state’s but not rules that are looser.

A Pritzker spokeswoman said in a statement Thursday that Chicago’s coronavirus numbers aren’t there yet, but the governor would “look forward to her call” on the matter.

“As the governor announced last week, beginning tomorrow, regions who meet the metrics to go back to lower tiers in the resurgence mitigation plan will be allowed to do so,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said. “Currently, the city of Chicago and Cook County do not meet the metrics to return to previous tiers.”

Pritzker closed Chicago restaurants and bars for indoor service in late October after the city’s average daily positivity rate eclipsed the benchmark of 8% for three straight days.

According to the most recent state data, the city hasn’t yet met the requirements to have the more stringent restrictions, including lower capacity limits for retailers, lifted because it has had fewer than 20% of hospital beds available for eight consecutive days.

While making her public pitch, Lightfoot said restaurants are highly regulated, receive regular inspections and have gone “above and beyond to put in mitigation controls inside of the restaurants.”

“They are going to be one of the safer places,” Lightfoot said.

The Illinois Restaurant Association released a statement Thursday calling on Pritzker to allow for limited indoor dining across the state. The trade group cited the length of time that restaurants have been closed and said 31,000 industry jobs had been lost to the pandemic.

“This is the highest rate of hospitality job loss in the entire country, and three times as many as the next closest state. We are also one of only three states with a complete statewide shutdown of indoor dining,” Sam Toia, president and CEO of the trade group, said in the statement. “Restaurants are out of time, and they need a more reasonable — and immediate — path forward to save the industry. This is the reckoning.”

Lightfoot also said people are holding underground parties that spread COVID-19 and that reopening bars and restaurants to indoor service could help.

“Let’s bring it out of the shadows, let’s allow them to have some recreation in restaurants, in bars, where we can actually work with responsible owners and managers to regulate and protect people from COVID-19, so I feel very strongly that we are very close to a point where we should be talking about opening our bars and restaurants,” Lightfoot said.

State health officials on Thursday reported 6,652 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19. The seven-day average of new cases hit 6,377, roughly the same it was a week ago after spiking to 6,990 average daily cases for the week ending Sunday. In all, there have been 1,052,682 known cases statewide throughout the pandemic.


Officials also recorded 88 additional fatalities, bringing the statewide death toll to 17,928 since March.

The state averaged 94 deaths per day over the past week, the first time the average daily death toll has dropped below 100 since Nov. 29 and down from a peak of 155 deaths per day on Dec. 8.

The statewide case positivity rate — the percentage of new cases as a share of total tests — was 6.8% for the week ending Wednesday, down from 8.5% a week earlier.

Lightfoot criticized Pritzker in October when he announced that he would be closing indoor service at bars and restaurants due to a spike in coronavirus cases, but she later dropped her objection.

An image of Frank Sinatra hangs above an empty table at Rosebud restaurant on Taylor Street on Sept. 29, 2020.
An image of Frank Sinatra hangs above an empty table at Rosebud restaurant on Taylor Street on Sept. 29, 2020. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)

In recent months, Lightfoot has attempted to position herself as a friend to bars and restaurants though she has also faced criticism for the city’s anti-coronavirus measures, including stricter rules on liquor sales, which she’s since rescinded.

The mayor has also been criticized for how she’s handled the reopening of Chicago Public Schools amid COVID-19.

Earlier this month, Lightfoot reiterated a stay-at-home advisory telling people not to go out unless it’s necessary. Schools are exempt from the advisory, but the Chicago Teachers Union has said the order and reopening schools are contradictory.

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