Restaurants demand to reopen statewide as some Illinois regions may see relaxed COVID restrictions


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(The Center Square) – COVID-19 restrictions in regions of Illinois that meet certain metrics the Pritzker administration laid out may be able to relax mitigations. A restaurant association wants things opened statewide.

Earlier this week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said if a region of the state has a COVID-19 test positivity rate below 12 percent, greater than 20 percent hospital capacity, and a decline of COVID-19 patients in the hospital, all over three days, they may be able to relax restrictions beginning Friday.

“If we maintain adherence to mask wearing and social distancing and make sure to get vaccinated when it’s your time, we will experience a robust recovery that I know we all look forward to,” Pritzker said.

Regional metrics can be found at the Illinois Department of Public Health website.

Even with a relaxation, he said there are still restrictions on restaurants in his plan.

The state has been under Phase 4 Tier 3 mitigation since Nov. 20, which prohibits indoor dining and bar service, and caps non-grocery retail to 25 percent capacity. Even in Phase 4 Tier 2, and Phase 4 Tier 1, indoor service at bars and restaurants is prohibited per the governor’s plan.

But the Illinois Restaurant Association Thursday said there should be immediate safe and limited indoor dining allowed statewide.

“Eating and drinking places in Illinois lost 31,000 jobs in November alone,” IRA President and CEO Sam Toia said. “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,” he said. “Restaurants are out of time, and they need a more reasonable – and immediate – path forward to save the industry. This is the reckoning.”

State Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, said the industry knows how to do it right and is reaching a breaking point.

“We are just going to find a dying industry here in the next month or two if we do not figure something out,” Murphy said.

The restaurant group said their members make up only 4 percent of total COVID-19 outbreaks since July 1, but the indoor service prohibition has been in place by the governor for months, longer than any other state, the group said.

Even Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said restaurants should be allowed to open “as quickly as possible.”

Lightfoot said Thursday people are going to private gatherings where they may not follow certain protocols, putting them at risk of COVID-19.

“Let’s bring it out of the shadows,” Lightfoot said. “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. “

Murphy said the statewide prohibition hasn’t really been enforced uniformly from county to county.

“I had one individual reach out to me and they lost three weddings, they’re banquet facilities, they lost three weddings and they only went another 10 miles across the county line where they’re allowing it,” Murphy said. “This is thousands of dollars. This is the difference of whether they will make payroll or not.”


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