Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration is adding restrictions to Lake and McHenry counties, effectively shutting down all indoor dining and drinking in Chicago and the surrounding collar counties by week’s end in an attempt to slow the spiking numbers of COVID-19.
And Mayor Lori Lightfoot cooled some of her opposition to the order impacting Chicago’s bars and restaurants starting Friday, saying that while she still believed restaurants and bars aren’t the major source of spread, she’s on the same page with the governor in doing their best to stop the virus’ spread.
The mitigations for Lake and McHenry counties include a suspension of indoor dining, closing outdoor bar service by 11:00 p.m. and limiting social gatherings at 25 people or 25% of a room’s overall capacity. They go into effect on Saturday.
The restrictions match what the governor has already ordered for the City of Chicago and Cook, DuPage, Kane, Will and Kankakee Counties, in addition to the Metro East region outside of St. Louis, Mo. and Northwestern Illinois, including Rockford.
What triggered the latest round of restrictions on dining in Lake and McHenry Counties is nine straight days of increasing COVID-19 cases, according to data from the state’s public health department. As of Oct. 24, those two counties had a positivity rate of 8.4%. It’s also seen five straight days of increasing hospital admissions related to the coronavirus.
The state’s public health department also reported another 6,110 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, including 51 new deaths. That is the second-most number of new cases of the virus in the state since it started tracking them, topped only by the number of new cases discovered last Saturday. The state is rapidly approaching 10,000 coronavirus-related deaths, with 9,619 documented lives lost due to the virus to date.
“We are getting close to the entire state implementing mitigation measures,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “This is not just a warning, but a call to action. We continue to move backwards, losing all the ground we had gained over the summer. We turned the state around once, let’s do it again. Limit your potential exposures by wearing a mask, physically distancing, and limiting in-person gatherings. It will take all of us working together to beat this virus.”
However, local elected officials have been pushing back against Pritzker’s latest order to shut down indoor bar and restaurant service.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the PBS Newshour last night that she is skeptical shutting down the city’s restaurants would quell the spread of the virus. Data from the city is showing home gatherings are a bigger cause of the spread, she said.
“I’m not sure we’re reaching the right people with the restrictions that are being imposed by the state, and that’s my concern,” Lightfoot said Tuesday.
But on Wednesday, Lightfoot appeared to soften her opposition to the order, saying she had no intention to take it to the courts to fight it. She said she and the governor spoke for an hour, a conversation she described as “frank and productive.” While she reiterated that Chicago’s spread appears focused in non-public settings, she said her focus now was in supporting small businesses and urging them to apply for the $200 million in grants available already from the state.
“Yesterday’s news hit people very hard,” Lightfoot said. “Given that this is happening, I can’t stress enough to folks, please support your local restaurants in every form. Takeout. You got today and part of tomorrow for dining in. But they need our help now more than ever.”
In addition, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, called on Pritzker to work with state lawmakers to find a middle ground that wouldn’t involve shutting down restaurants, cautioning the governor that this action will force many places to permanently close without actually slowing the spread of the virus.
“Human beings are social. They’re going to find a place and it’s going to be within their home,” he said. “People are gonna move from the restaurants to the homes and we’re creating a bigger problem by eliminating people’s ability to socialize and go to a restaurant.”
Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, referred to Pritzker’s shut downs a “failure” and called on the Illinois state senate to convene a special committee hearing to allow the governor’s administration to present why indoor dining should be restricted.
“Where’s the data? Where’s the transparency?” Brady asked. “How do we tell our constituents that you’re making decisions that are right when we really don’t know because we haven’t seen a robust contact tracing program put in place in a timely fashion. We need that information. This is a failure, I think, in government. It’s a failure to build consensus.”
Pritzker’s administration has pushed back on this notion in recent weeks as the state’s daily count of positive cases has spiked upward, releasing national scientific documents showing restaurants and bars are known to be sites where the virus spreads.
Earlier in the year, Pritzker temporarily enacted similar measures — shutting down indoor dining in the Metro East region and Chicago’s south suburbs. Pritzker reiterated at Wednesday’s news briefing that those efforts did work, with the number of cases in those regions dropping significantly after a few weeks.
“These resurgence mitigations aim to cut down on some of the highest high-risk activities until we bring down the positivity rate in a region once again,” Pritzker said in a statement Wednesday morning announcing dining restrictions in Lake and McHenry Counties. “I know this virus is hard on everyone. But this battle isn’t going away by itself. We have to manage our way through it with the tools we have available to us. And there are many of those tools that nearly everyone in our state has available to join the fight.”
The Illinois State Police have issued citations to businesses flaunting the mask or social distancing requirements in five counties. Pritzker has also said that the state could punish scofflaw bars and restaurants by revoking liquor or gaming licenses.