CHICAGO — Despite widespread looting and heightened public health concerns brought on by thousands of people protesting in tight groups across the city, Chicago will move ahead with looser coronavirus restrictions as planned on Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced.
Lightfoot previously said restaurants, hotels and many more businesses would get to start opening June 3 with reduced capacities and tight rules in place designed to stop COVID-19 cases from spiking. That timeline seemed imperiled in recent days as fallout from the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd led to nationwide protests and civil unrest, but Lightfoot said the city will move forward with its plan as scheduled.
In making the decision, Lightfoot said she relied on local chambers of commerce and business owners she met while touring sites of destruction over the past several says who told her the city needs to return to some sense of normalcy to give people hope.
“Everywhere I went, I asked … Should we open? Or should we delay?” Lightfoot said. “And to universal acclaim, emphatically what I heard from people was, ‘Mayor, we have to step forward. We have to open.’”
Even as Lightfoot announced the move forward with the planned reopening, she warned that the city of Chicago could scale back if people do not continue to follow social distancing rules or if coronavirus cases jump.
“The threat from COVID-19 is very much still with us,” Lightfoot said. “We must maintain all of the public health guidance that got us to this point.”
While acknowledging the trauma in Chicago, Lightfoot also struck an optimistic tone.
“We will be able to heal and recover from this trauma, as we have throughout our history,” Lightfoot said. “It may not seem like morning is coming through this dark haze, but it is.”
The decision to reopen took some by surprise. Over the weekend, Lightfoot suggested that protests could delay a reopening. Public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady on Monday also urged those who were protesting or in crowds over the weekend to stay away from people older than 60 or others who have underlying medical conditions.
“I am concerned that this weekend not just related to the protests but related to a lot of people gathering in Chicago for a lot of reasons, we may see ourselves take a step backwards down the line here in Chicago,” Arwady said. “And that’s because COVID-19 is caused by a virus, and that virus does not care what else is going on in the city. Nothing has changed unfortunately related to COVID-19. We still do not have a treatment. We still do not have a cure. We do not have a vaccine.”
How Chicago’s reopening will play out is unclear given the ongoing fallout from Floyd’s death. Even essential businesses have been voluntarily shutting down since protests began escalating over the weekend.
Under the city’s rules, announced last week, restaurants will only be allowed to serve diners in areas deemed outdoors, including at tables that are inside but close to large doors or windows that are thrown open.
The mayor acknowledged these standards will be tough to meet for smaller neighborhood eateries. Lightfoot has pushed in recent weeks to include some indoor dining options, and said she has been discussing with Gov. J.B. Pritzker how to achieve that, though he has been cool to the idea.
Phase three also could see as many as 130,000 Chicago workers in retail and office buildings reentering the workforce.
Lightfoot’s administration announced Chicago’s phase three reopening plans last week for various industries including restaurants and child care facilities, nonessential retail stores, hotels and limited services at hair and nail salons as well as barbershops.
Not included in Lightfoot’s plans are guidelines for reopening sporting events, bars, religious services, outdoor performances, summer programs and youth activities, the lakefront and museums. Those standards “will be available later in phase three when those entities are predicted to begin reopening,” according to the administration.
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