Pritzker loosens some COVID-19 restrictions, but indoor dining won’t return immediately

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday that three regions of the state will be allowed to move out of Tier 3 mitigations in a move that will allow those regions to loosen restrictions, but the indoor dining won’t return right away, further frustrating business owners hit hard by the pandemic.

The areas going back to Tier 2 mitigations are Region 1 (northern Illinois), Region 2 (north-central Illinois) and Region 5 (southern Illinois).

Under the state’s guidelines, a region can move to Tier 2 mitigations if it has a test positivity rate of less than 12% for three straight days, and more than 20% of ICU and hospital beds are available, as well as a declining number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in 7 of the previous 10 days.

The move to Tier 2 will mean the return of group fitness classes, and the reopening of casinos and museums with capacity limits, but still no indoor service at bars and restaurants.

“Things are heading in the right direction, and bars and restaurants and other businesses will be able to reopen even more as we move down back toward Phase 4,” Pritzker said.

The Illinois Restaurant Association said it was disappointed with the governor’s decision.

“While every step towards reopening helps, today’s announcement falls short of the restaurant industry’s critical needs and expectations,” Illinois Restaurant Association President and CEO Sam Toia said in a statement. “As outlined, restaurants in all of our state’s regions will remain closed for indoor dining until they reach Tier 1 – adding to growing debt, devastating job loss, and business closures.”

Toia said once indoor service is allowed to resume, the governor’s capacity limits will put a damper on business.

“Additionally, the restaurants located in Tier 1 regions able to offer limited indoor dining can do so only at the lesser of 25% capacity, or 25 total guests per room. No restaurant can break even at that volume, let alone hire back their team members,” he said. “As one of the most highly regulated industries in terms of health and safety – and with enhanced measures introduced during COVID-19 – Illinois restaurants know how to protect the wellbeing of their guests and team members.”

Pritzker also announced that the next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations will begin on Jan. 25. Phase 1B, which will center on residents 65 and older and frontline essential workers, including first responders, teachers and child care workers, grocery store employees and postal workers. This comes as state health officials announced that a highly contagious strain of the coronavirus has made its way to Illinois.

“We have now formally identified the first Illinois case of the more contagious British variant, and top of that there are new variants from Japan, South Africa Nigeria and Brazil” Pritzker said.

Chicago public health officials reported the person with the variant had traveled to the United Kingdom prior to being diagnosed with COVID-19.

The new variant was first identified in the United States in Colorado and has found in 12 states.

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