CHICAGO - Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday that bars and restaurants will be allowed to open at 50% capacity, loosening restrictions put into place due to the coronavirus pandemic as vaccinations ramp up.
Lightfoot’s decision comes as the city’s public health officials said Illinois residents 65 or older can start making appointments Thursday for the United Center vaccination site. The site on the city’s West Side will open March 9.
"We have made incredible progress in recent weeks and months, and I thank our business community for their ongoing commitment to saving lives," Lightfoot said in a statement.
Bars and restaurants can now remain open until 1 a.m., alcohol sales from liquor stores and other establishments with a Package Goods license can now continue until 11 p.m. and indoor fitness class size can increase to 20 people, Lightfoot’s office said.
Other regulations will remain in place for the time being, including the capacity limit of no more than 50 people within any one space at bars, restaurants, events and other venues.
"I am thrilled that we have reached 50% capacity, but I again call on all of our businesses and residents to double down on what works," Lightfoot said.
Leaders of Chicago’s restaurant industry remain unhappy about Lightfoot's capacity decision. Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia says he wants Lightfoot to increase the capacity for each restaurant room or designated area separated by a plexiglass divider from 50 people to 100 or 150.
"You cannot do catering parties with more than 50 people. We’re moving into the springtime here. You’ve got a lot of communions, graduations, Bar Mitzvahs, weddings," Toia said. "We would really like to see it get bumped up to 150 per room."
Chicago public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady says starting Tuesday there will be more than 110,000 slots for those 65 and older at the United Center.
Through a city partnership with Uber, 20,000 free rides also will be available to those residents who need help getting to the appointment and back after they sign up, Arwady said.
The Illinois Department of Public Health is reporting 1,577 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, including 47 additional deaths. About 1.2 million Illinoisans have been infected over the past year, and 20,583 have died.
Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.