“This is pretty novel and everyone is sort of flying by the seat of their pants,” River North restaurateur Guido Nardini said. “We’re in a tough spot.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely gather maskless in most settings, indoors or out.
But will the immunized be allowed to ditch the masks inside Chicago bars and restaurants? That’s anybody’s guess for now.
“It’s just adding confusion to things for us,” manager Vanessa Cobbins said ahead of the lunch rush at MacArthur’s Restaurant in the Austin neighborhood. “We had problems trying to keep the masks on in the first place.”
As Chicago and the rest of Illinois entered the penultimate stage of reopening, officials had yet to issue an updated set of business guidelines regarding face coverings as of early Friday afternoon. Establishments have been required to enforce the mask mandate for employees and patrons throughout most of the pandemic, at the risk of hefty fines.
But without a uniform way to verify a person’s vaccination status, the new CDC guidelines all but throw out those local regulations.
A spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Public Health referred questions to the city’s Bureau of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Sources said officials were still ironing out new sets of regulations at both the city and state levels.
Either way, the masks are staying on at MacArthur’s for now.
“People don’t realize it’s not up to us. Until the city tells us otherwise, people have to wear the mask,” Cobbins said.
But at Club Lago in River North, co-owner Guido Nardini said unless city inspectors tell him otherwise, he expects to allow customers to dine maskless — even if he’s not completely comfortable with the idea.
“This is pretty novel and everyone is sort of flying by the seat of their pants,” Nardini said. “We have to trust that these are decisions coming from people who are trusting the science and that this is the right call. The thing I know is I can’t enforce something that the CDC doesn’t enforce.
“We’re in a tough spot. I will take people’s temperatures, I will prevent them from having more than six at a table, I will ensure social distancing in my shop — but I’m not gonna ask for people’s papers,” he said. “I’d be terrified to stand on principle and let my customers go to my competition when we are not in the darkest days of this pandemic.”
Statewide, coronavirus metrics are at their lowest levels in two months. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,841 new cases of the disease were diagnosed among 83,624 tests, lowering the average positivity rate to 2.5%. Officials also reported 49 more deaths, including those of 14 Cook County residents.
New COVID-19 cases by day
Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times
Source: Illinois Department of Public Health
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With the latest 50,326 shots doled out Thursday, more than 60% of the state population have gotten at least one vaccine dose, and 37% are fully vaccinated.
Earlier this week, the city announced it wouldn’t count fully vaccinated patrons against capacity limits. But officials are leaving it up to bar and restaurant owners to come up with their own verification methods, only suggesting vaccination cards or an electronic or photocopy of it as examples of “acceptable methods.”
Pat Doerr, managing director of the Hospitality Business Association of Chicago, said his advice to operators is simple: “Just ask to see their card, whether it’s a picture on their phone or the actual card, and say, ‘Welcome.’ ”
Compared to the other trials owners have faced over the last year, “it is the most infinitesimal inconvenience we’ve been asked to deal with in months. And it’s optional,” Doerr said, noting that establishments can set their own rules.
Simple solution or not, “this weekend’s gonna be rough,” he said.
“All of us are completely confused as to what the rule is, so customers will be, too.”