The Bulls and Blackhawks have been playing before empty stands at the United Center during the pandemic. | Sun-Times file
Restaurants and bars can increase indoor capacity to 50% or 100 people, whichever is less. The cap had been 50% or 50 people. Meetings, conferences and conventions held at large indoor venues like McCormick Place now can operate at 25% capacity or 250 people, whichever is less.
With two million vaccine doses administered and health metrics improving, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is reopening Chicago a little bit more — this time to let restaurants and theaters serve more patrons and allow fans inside the United Center for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The new Phase Four rules, effective immediately, allow the Bulls and Blackhawks to close their seasons before roughly 5,250 fans per game — 25% of the United Center’s capacity.
The Blackhawks play at home Thursday and Saturday against the Florida Panthers, then finish their regular-season home schedule with two games in May. The Bulls have a home game Friday, the first of six regular-season games left.
That 25% rule also applies to Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field and Soldier Field, an increase from the current 20%. The 25% also includes churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship.
Restaurants and bars can increase indoor capacity to 50% or 100 people, whichever is less. The cap had been 50% or 50 people.
Meetings, conferences and conventions held at large indoor venues like McCormick Place now can operate at 25% capacity or 250 people, whichever is less.
Festivals and, what the city calls “general admission outdoor spectator events” get the green light to welcome 15 people for every 1,000 square feet.
The same rules apply to flea markets, which can operate at 25% capacity.
Couples who have put off their weddings during the pandemic are also getting a bit of a break.
Effective immediately, guests who are fully vaccinated and have waited 14 days since their second shot will not count toward capacity limits at weddings and other private events.
But there’s a catch. Those weddings, graduation parties and other large gatherings must be private and held at a licensed business. Also, guests must RSVP, and business owners will be held responsible for verifying that guests are fully vaccinated and keeping records to prove it.
Throughout the pandemic, Lightfoot has likened her caution and gradual reopening of Chicago to turning the knob on a dimmer switch.
In announcing the latest changes at Navy Pier on Thursday, Lightfoot thanked Chicago residents, employees and businesses for the incredible sacrifices they made to make the reopening possible.
Chicago’s test positivity rate dropped to 4.7% this week — the first time since March it dipped below 5%. That falls into the “lower-risk” level. Hospital capacity in both intensive care and non-intensive care beds remains in the “moderate-risk” category, despite a recent rise in cases, officials said.
“Despite the unimaginable challenges that were thrown our way last year, we were still able to persist and come together to slow and stop the spread of this virus and put our city on the right path toward a safe reopening,” the mayor was quoted as saying in a press release.
“Open Chicago is not only the direct result of these efforts. It also serves as the latest step in our mission to fully restore a sense of normalcy within our city by bringing back and reimagining some of our favorite summer- and fall-time activities.”
Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city has made “significant progress” over the past few weeks. But, she urged Chicagoans not to let their guards down.
“While this is an exciting moment, I have to warn everyone we are not out of this pandemic yet. And we need to continue to be safe and smart. We need all Chicagoans to get the vaccine. It is available. It is safe and effective. And it is the best tool we have to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
If the health metrics remain stable or continue to decline for the next two weeks, Lightfoot said Chicago will “join the State of Illinois in moving to the Bridge Phase” of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan.
That will loosen the reins “across industries,” and expand operating hours for bars and restaurants.