New COVID-19 Restrictions: Here’s What You Can And Can’t Do In Illinois And Chicago

COVID restaurant
Dozens of people enjoy a beer and a meal last fall at Bureau Bar and Restaurant, 2115 S. State St., in Chicago. Illinois and Chicago are easing COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and restaurants starting Friday. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
COVID restaurant
Dozens of people enjoy a beer and a meal last fall at Bureau Bar and Restaurant, 2115 S. State St., in Chicago. Illinois and Chicago are easing COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and restaurants starting Friday. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

New COVID-19 Restrictions: Here’s What You Can And Can’t Do In Illinois And Chicago

Public health officials have made some big changes to COVID-19 restrictions in recent days — mostly for the better.

Friday marks the first day that Illinois is easing some more restrictions on life and business in the state. This comes a day after the federal Centers For Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance saying fully vaccinated Americans don’t have to wear masks or socially distance “in any setting,” except where required by local laws.

But that’s where things get confusing, because state and local guidance can differ from what the feds say. Here’s a look at what we know — and don’t know — about what you can do in Illinois and Chicago right now. Check back for updates.

Do I still have to wear a mask?

The current guidance from Illinois state public health officials says people should still continue to maintain certain safety precautions against COVID-19, “like wearing a mask in public and social distancing.”

In an email, Pritzker Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said the governor’s office is in the process of updating its executive orders “to match the CDC guidance.”

Meanwhile, a city spokesperson told WBEZ that “Chicago Department of Public Health is supportive of the CDC’s new mask recommendation.”

The CDPH’s Erica Duncan said the city is working on drafting new guidance for specific settings, but officials “expect to broadly follow this new CDC guidance across most settings.

“This does not, however, mean that masks are going away,” Duncan said. “We also agree with the CDC that masks should be worn during travel, including use of public transit, and that the unvaccinated should continue to wear masks in most settings.

Can I finally go hang out with friends at a restaurant or bar like normal?

While things aren’t totally normal yet, they’ll start to look a lot more like pre-pandemic times — especially if you’re fully vaccinated.

Illinois is now in the so-called “Bridge Phase” — the final stage of state-mandated restrictions before Illinois totally reopens. It says restaurants can seat all of their tables with up to 10 people, as long as the tables are spaced at least 6 feet apart. At indoor “standing areas” (like a crowded bar), establishments can serve up to 30% of their usual capacity, and 50% if it’s outside.

In Chicago, the Bridge Phase rules are still a bit tighter, with restaurants and bars capped at 75% of capacity and table sizes limited to 10 people. Standing areas are capped at 25% of capacity.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightoot tweeted Thursday that restaurants and bars can choose to exempt people who are fully vaccinated from those limits. The CDPH didn’t respond to questions about what kind of proof of vaccination businesses can require, and whether they can turn away unvaccinated patrons.

Outside Chicago, guidance from Illinois’ state government says people “with proof of full vaccination” or a recent negative COVID-19 test do not count against capacity limits.

What are the guidelines around other indoor public spaces?

Guidelines from the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago now allow most indoor public spaces to accommodate people at 60% of their usual capacity.

That applies to offices, barber shops and salons, retail stores, amusement parks, gyms and fitness centers, museums, indoor theaters and concert venues, zoos and places of worship.

Indoor “social events” — like funerals, weddings and other gatherings — are capped at 250 people.

State and city guidance also say fully vaccinated people don’t count toward capacity limits.

Both the state and the city are still recommending mask-wearing and social distancing indoors, but again, that could change. Stay tuned.

What about restrictions for stuff that’s outside?

Both Illinois and Chicago have now increased capacity restrictions to outdoor events, festivals and farmers markets to 30 people per 1,000 square feet. (Picture about 100 people hanging out in an outdoor space the size of an average Chicago bungalow lot.)

Outdoor fitness classes and recreational groups are capped at 100 people, and outdoor social occasions are limited to 500 people.

Again, the CDC says fully vaccinated people don’t need masks outdoors, either.

Alex Keefe is an editor on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him @akeefe.