Illinois ranks second-last when it comes to reopening bars and restaurants

Illinois ranks second-last when it comes to reopening bars and restaurants

A study from WalletHub ranks Illinois 50th-most severe on COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants. 233,500 jobs were lost in that sector since February.

As Illinois readies to move into Phase 4 of the five-phased reopening plan, a new study from WalletHub placed Illinois second from the bottom when it came to easing restrictions on bars and restaurants across the state.

And another study by economists found suddenly lifting statewide orders had no effect on social distancing, the spread of COVID-19 or related deaths. People were no less careful just because government was no longer telling them to act a certain way.

On June 26 indoor restaurants in Illinois can allow indoor dining for groups of 10 or fewer and with tables six feet apart. Bar standing areas cannot be at more than 25% of capacity, according to guidelines issued June 22 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“Even with Friday’s new increased capacity opportunities I don’t know how much that’s going to bring anything to the bottom line,” said Kristan Vaughan, whose family operates seven Irish pubs and restaurants in the Chicago area. “So, we’re working through it. We’re running as tight as we can in order to try and make sure that our staff and our businesses make money.”

Pritzker’s Phase 5, when bars and restaurants can operate normally, depends on a vaccine, highly effective treatment or lack of new cases for a “sustained period.” A vaccine may be available at the end of 2020.

Vaughan can’t look that far ahead and is just trying to get to tomorrow. She said six of her locations are open, but the numbers do not work for the seventh and it is for sale.

“We laid off 160 people [in mid-March], and that was hard. People depend on their jobs for their livelihood and it’s hard to let people go. Then to not know when you can reopen, and plan for two weeks and it become a month and then it drag on. Then to hear from Pritzker that we are going to be able to open, and then [Chicago Mayor] Lori Lightfoot changes the rules and we had to wait, then you throw the protest and riots in the middle of it all: It’s been a difficult time,” she said.

Bars and restaurants have been struggling since they were shuttered on March 16 as part of Pritzker’s emergency response to COVID-19. Since the state moved into Phase 3 on May 29, bars and restaurants have faced comparatively stringent restrictions that only allowed take-out or outdoor dining, and it is those restrictions upon which WalletHub on June 22 placed Illinois second-to-last in the nation for allowing bars and restaurants to operate.

Illinois’ biggest job losses have been in the restaurant and accommodation sector, which lost 44% of its jobs since February. There are 233,500 of those jobs still missing, according to the latest federal data.

Pritzker did sign a bill legalizing cocktails to-go during the first week of Phase 3. Under the new law, pre-mixed cocktails can be delivered either to a person’s residence or through curbside pick-up at the bar by someone who is 21 years old to another individual of legal age who is not already too intoxicated. Previously, alcohol and mixers could be sold only as a cocktail kit, and the purchasers would have to mix the drinks themselves.

Alongside cocktails to-go, lawmakers in Springfield also delayed late fees and license fees for liquor licenses. Businesses that shut their doors because of the pandemic also had their liquor license automatically renewed and extended.

For many restaurant owners, the restrictions were plentiful but the guidance was lacking.

There is “not much specific [guidance] to the restaurant industry as far as sanitation and health procedures go from local leadership … not much for county, state and federal guidance as well, specifically towards the hospitality industry,” saidRandy Miles, owner of Village Inn Pizzeria in Skokie. “We have been creating our own guidance [but] without local, county and state support, it is difficult to enforce.”

Moreover, growing evidence seems to indicate that stringent restrictions and extended stay-at-home orders had little to no effect on the spread of COVID-19. A June 2020 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, or NBER, used the example of Wisconsin to examine whether the sudden absence of any restrictions contributed to a growth in COVID-19 cases. The Wisconsin Supreme Court suddenly struck down the statewide stay-at-home order on May 13, essentially invalidating overnight all statewide restrictions related to COVID-19.

NBER researchers found the court’s action “had only modest effects on measures of social distancing behavior, causing individuals to venture outside of their homes more often,” but “other measures of distancing were unaffected.” Furthermore, the researchers did “not find any discernible or substantial increase in COVID-19 cases or acceleration in the growth of cases due to” the sudden repeal of the statewide order.

The NBER study concludes by noting that “These findings cast doubt on the assertion that reopening states by lifting [shelter-in-place orders] will necessarily cause substantial erosion in the containment of the virus.” The researchers argue that social norms are created and personal protective behaviors hold without a government order.

Other Illinois restrictions lightened during Phase 4 include allowing gatherings of up to 50 people.

Phase 4 also brings Illinois more in line with restrictions on businesses, especially bars and restaurants, across the nation. The city of Chicago’s restaurant guidelines slightly differ from the state guidelines, notably limiting overall indoor occupancy to 25% and allowing no more than 50 people per room or floor.

However, many businesses in communities across Illinois may never reopen.

“I can probably name 10 places within walking distance that are not going to reopen,” Miles said. “You can’t flip a switch and turn the economy back on.”

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