Chicago lets restaurants, bars serve more people indoors

CHICAGO (AP) — Restrictions aimed at limiting spread of the coronavirus in Chicago's restaurants and bars will ease slightly this week, letting more customers dine and drink indoors.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the decision Monday as Illinois officials said 1,709 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been reported statewide and 13 more people have died.

Since the start of the pandemic, Illinois has reported 289,639 confirmed cases and 8,614 deaths. According to state health data, 79,765 of those cases and 2,956 deaths have been among Chicago residents.

Statewide, 3.7% of the tests performed during the last seven days have been positive. In Chicago, Lightfoot said that figure is at 4.5%.

The changes to Chicago's rules will let restaurants increase capacity from 25% to 40% — with a cap at 50 people within one room. Bars without food service, which the city shut down this summer after a brief reopening, can resume indoor service at 25% or a maximum of 50 people.

Chicago is also allowing health and fitness centers to welcome patrons at up to 40% capacity, up from 25%. They can also hold group classes of up to 15 people rather than the prior limit of 10.

The lighter restrictions take effect Thursday.

Lightfoot said the city is prepared to ramp up restrictions again if spread of the virus accelerates, but she said recent trends made her comfortable with the changes for industries hit hard by the pandemic.

“We continue to see new cases every single day,” Lightfoot said. “We continue to see new hospitalizations, every single day. And while the number of deaths that we’re recording every day has gone down substantially from its peak, people are still dying from COVID-19. So we have to remain diligent in our approach to making sure that we do everything that we can to respond to this horrible, horrible virus.”