As Oak Park and River Forest restaurants prepared to close up outdoor seating ahead of wet and wintry weather, they now will lose indoor seating as well. Starting at 12:01 a.m., Wed., Oct. 28, customers can no longer eat inside restaurants or bars in suburban Cook County, according to new safety procedures issued Monday by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

Following an increase in COVID-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has imposed resurgence mitigations in suburban Cook County under the state’s Restore Illinois plan.

While the new measures are intended to reduce further fatalities, they could also deliver a fatal blow to restaurants, which have not fully recovered from the state-wide shutdown last spring.

Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb is in the unique position of being an elected official, responsible for keeping constituents safe, and the owner of Maya Del Sol, 144 S. Oak Park Ave.

“It’s devastating for our business, the hospitality business and many other businesses,” said Abu-Taleb. “But public safety takes priority.”

Not long after the first positive cases of COVID-19 popped up in Illinois, the village of Oak Park issued a shelter-in place order March 18. Abu-Taleb said doing so was a “hard decision.” A few days later on March 21, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s similar state-wide stay-at-home order went into effect, to which Oak Park then deferred. Just as he did in spring, Abu-Taleb continues to support safety orders imposed by the state.

“It’s not an easy decision to make,” said Abu-Taleb. “But we elected officials are entrusted with the public’s safety and I support the measures taken by the state, even though it costs us financially heavily and it’s devastating for our businesses.”

In addition to the ban on indoor dining, the restrictions require bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m. and to open no earlier than 6 a.m. the following day. Reservations at bars and restaurants are required for each party. Multiple parties cannot be seated at the same table. All parties must be seated outside at tables placed 6 feet apart.

Patrons may not congregate, order or sit at a bar nor are people allowed to congregate outdoors or indoors while waiting for a table or exiting. The mitigation measures require the removal of all barstools. Dancing and standing indoors are prohibited in bars.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) confirmed the mitigation measures in an Oct. 26 press release.

“Yesterday the state reported over 4,000 new cases of COVID-19 in a 24-hour period. The numbers are very concerning and a wake-up call as we head into colder weather, flu season and the holidays,” Preckwinkle said in the press release.

“We are all experiencing COVID fatigue, but we must remain vigilant and continue practicing the commonsense strategies that have been proven to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.”

The press release states that CCPDH has seen an eight day increase in COVID-19 test positivity and seven days of increased hospital admissions, which necessitated the state to impose mitigations in suburban Cook County, also referred to as Region 10.

According to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, the number of COVID-19-related deaths in the county has reached 5,426, which includes an additional 57 deaths since Oct. 19.

The new safety requirements have no set expiration date. According to the resurgence mitigations portion of the Restore Illinois plan, IDPH will continue to track the COVID-19 positivity rate over a 14-day period to determine if restrictions can be relaxed, if current restrictions should remain in place or if the situation requires the implementation of additional restrictions.

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