Sub­ur­ban bars, restau­rants asked to take vol­un­tary steps to com­bat COVID-19 surge

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY RACHEL HIN­TON, STAFF RE­PORTER rhin­ton@sun­times.com | @rrhin­ton Con­tribut­ing: Caro­line Hur­ley

Look­ing to crack down on a surge in coro­n­avirus cases among young peo­ple in the sub­urbs, Cook County of­fi­cials an­nounced Mon­day they’re urg­ing restau­rants to seat fewer din­ers at each ta­ble and bars to only serve cus­tomers out­doors.

Fit­ness cen­ters in sub­ur­ban Cook County are also be­ing asked to re­duce the num­ber of peo­ple in the classes they hold from 50 to 10.

“We’re re­ally ask­ing the pub­lic to re­ally get on the band­wagon with this,” said Dr. Rachel Ru­bin, a coleader of the county’s De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health.

“These are not ma­jor changes, I un­der­stand that it does hurt some es­tab­lish­ments or busi­ness own­ers, and we cer­tainly re­gret that. The im­por­tant news is that we re­ally want to stop the spread of the virus or at least slow it down.”

The vol­un­tary guide­lines came as Illi­nois recorded another 1,298 coro­n­avirus cases across the state on Mon­day, the 13th day in a row with a four-digit daily caseload.

The new in­fec­tions pushed the state’s seven-day pos­i­tiv­ity rate just past 4% — up sharply from 2.6% a month ago.

The sit­u­a­tion is worse in sub­ur­ban Cook County, where the 10-day pos­i­tiv­ity rate shot up to 5.8% as of last Fri­day.

That ris­ing pos­i­tiv­ity rate, es­pe­cially among those who are be­tween 18 and 29, prompted the re­vised sub­ur­ban re­stric­tions, Ru­bin said.

Restau­rants and bars that serve food in the county’s sub­urbs are be­ing asked to cap groups of din­ers at six peo­ple, down from 10.

And bars, brew­eries, tav­erns and other places that serve al­co­hol with­out a re­tail food li­cense are be­ing asked to dis­con­tinue in­door ser­vice and only serve pa­trons out­side.

“We want ev­ery­body to be wear­ing a mask and so­cial dis­tanc­ing and wash­ing your hands and be care­ful when you go out to the bars — and just do it out­side,” Ru­bin said.

Fit­ness classes of­fered in sub­ur­ban Cook County should be re­duced from 50 peo­ple to 10, Ru­bin said.

Though the rec­om­men­da­tions are “ba­si­cally vol­un­tary,” Ru­bin said she hopes “most in­di­vid­u­als will want to fol­low that guid­ance and un­der­stand why we’re do­ing this now.”

“Right now, we’re sort of in the car­rot stage, not the stick,” Ru­bin said. “We re­ally want peo­ple to get on board with this and to see that now is the time to de­crease some of our open­ings and put mild re­stric­tions in place for now on a vol­un­tary ba­sis.”

One in­dus­try leader said he ex­pects busi­nesses to fol­low the guide­lines to head off more dras­tic steps.

Restau­rant and bar own­ers who’ve seen the “dev­as­tat­ing” ef­fect of the pan­demic on their in­dus­try don’t want to go back­ward, said Sam Toia, pres­i­dent of the Illi­nois Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion.

“We don’t want to go back into shel­ter in place,” Toia said. “We would rather take pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures in small steps now than go back into shel­ter in place.”

Daniel Claus­ner, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Illi­nois Li­censed Bev­er­age As­so­ci­a­tion, said in a state­ment that his or­ga­ni­za­tion is en­cour­ag­ing all mem­bers to “ad­here to state and lo­cal poli­cies.”

But he urged of­fi­cials to treat bars the same as restau­rants.

“Bars, restau­rants, tav­erns, and other sim­i­larly sit­u­ated busi­nesses are all tasked with en­forc­ing the chal­lenges of main­tain­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing, wear­ing masks, san­i­ta­tion pro­ce­dures, etc,” Claus­ner said. “The ILBA rec­om­mends to pol­i­cy­mak­ers that all sim­i­larly sit­u­ated busi­nesses op­er­ate equally on a level play­ing field.”

Across Illi­nois, the state on Mon­day also logged another nine deaths — four of them in Cook County — bring­ing the to­tal num­ber of those killed by the virus to 7,526. Al­to­gether, 183,241 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Illi­nois since the pan­demic gripped the state.

The state has seen a steady uptick in new cases in July, ri­val­ing num­bers not seen since May and early June.

Mon­day’s num­bers pushed the state’s seven-day av­er­age pos­i­tiv­ity rate to 4.01% — the first time since early June that the rate was over 4%. Mon­day’s sin­gle-day statewide pos­i­tiv­ity rate of 4.56% was the high­est since June 6.

Over the past week, Illi­nois has av­er­aged 1,512 new cases a day. The last time the state av­er­aged that many cases over a seven-day span was at the end of the peak month of May.

The lat­est num­bers were re­leased about an hour af­ter Gov. J.B. Pritzker an­nounced a new cam­paign urg­ing peo­ple to wear masks. The slo­gan of the se­ries of ads that will air on tele­vi­sion, Hulu and YouTube, is “It only works if you wear it.”

The ad cam­paign comes as the state is see­ing “some very con­cern­ing trends” in new coro­n­avirus cases, linked to over­crowded restau­rants and an over­all rise among those in their late teens and early 20s.

“Folks, no one is ask­ing you to wear a mask for­ever, but for the time be­ing, un­til we see a very ef­fec­tive treat­ment or a vac­cine, the best way to safely get to the other side of this emer­gency is for all of us to fol­low the mit­i­ga­tions rec­om­mended by doc­tors — wash your hands, watch your dis­tance, wear a mask when­ever you’re out and about,” the gov­er­nor said in Spring­field.

Bill Luby (cen­ter), 54, laughs with his friend, Calvin Grant, 53, both from Evanston, as they eat and drink on the pa­tio at Blue­stone, 1932 Cen­tral St. in Evanston, in May.


Gen­eral man­ager Juan Be­cer­ril, 35, of Chicago, dispenses hand san­i­tizer to cus­tomers pre­par­ing to eat lunch on the pa­tio at Flat Top Grill in Evanston in May.

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