As suburbs edge closer to looser restrictions, restaurants get some hope for indoor service
The suburbs and Chicago will stay under tough restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but trends indicate those could be lifted soon, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday.
Pritzker also made rule changes that should accelerate when indoor dining can resume.
The governor did ease restrictions in Region 1 in northern Illinois, Region 2 in central Illinois and Region 5 in southern Illinois, shifting the areas into less onerous "Tier 2" mitigations. Those allow museums and casinos to open with limited capacity, indoor fitness classes to resume with a 10-person limit, and low-risk youth and recreational sports to resume with restrictions, among other changes.
But Tier 2 doesn't allow indoor dining at bars or restaurants, a huge issue for the industry that has resulted in layoffs and business closings for eateries that can't survive on takeout or outdoor service alone.
Suburban Cook (Region 10), Lake and McHenry counties (Region 9), DuPage and Kane counties (Region 8), and Will and Kankakee counties (Region 7) are hovering near Tier 2 status, but each is falling short of one metric that would trigger a reprieve.
"The majority of the regions are making good progress," Pritzker said.
The entire state was put at Tier 3 on Nov. 20 as virus infections surged. Tier 3 bans indoor dining, closes museums and casinos, prohibits gathering in groups, and halts organized youth sports, among other measures.
Illinois Department of Public Health rules state regions can move from Tier 3 to Tier 2 if a region's positivity rate for COVID-19 tests is less than 12% for three days, more than 20% of hospital beds are available for three consecutive days, and the number of COVID-19 patients decreases for seven out of 10 days. Test positivity is measured by dividing positive COVID-19 tests by total tests.
Suburban regions 10, 9 and 8 hit most metrics, but their Achilles' heel was availability of general-use hospital beds. As of Thursday, Lake and McHenry had just 16.6% of general hospital beds open, Kane and DuPage had 16.7% available, and suburban Cook had 17.4% available.
Will and Kankakee counties saw and increased number of patients Monday and failed to meet the seven-day hospitalization decrease; it now sits at six days of decreases as of Thursday.
Under Friday's changes, moving into Tier 1 would allow restaurants to begin serving indoors instead of waiting to shift into the less restrictive Phase 4 of the state's COVID-19 program.
"The trajectory of the data in each region has given Dr. (Ngozi) Ezike and the IDPH some confidence that a careful and limited reopening of bars and restaurants that have attained Tier 1 will not lead to a resurgence," Pritzker said. "Bars and restaurants have carried an extremely heavy burden throughout this public health crisis through no fault of their own."
The Illinois Restaurant Association, however, said in a statement that "today's announcement falls short of the restaurant industry's critical needs and expectations."
There are several levels of mitigations the state can impose to curb activities during the pandemic. The strictest is a stay-at-home order, followed by Tier 3, Tier 2, Tier 1. After Tier 1 comes Phase 4. The state was in Phase 4 for much of the summer, which permits relative normalcy but bans large events such as professional sports games, and requires social distancing and masks in public.
Before Friday, regions would have had to wait for Phase 4 for indoor dining at restaurants.
After Phase 4 would come Phase 5, which means no restrictions at all.
To move to less restrictive stage, regions need to meet specific health metrics that indicate fewer infections and people in the hospital. Conversely, a spike in cases and patients will mean going backward to more restrictions.