Despite the fact suburban Cook County has officially received the green light to return to Phase 4 under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, the Oak Park Department of Health is joining county health officials in taking a “more gradual approach to easing COVID-19 mitigation measures.”
“Interim Oak Park Health Director Joseph T. Terry determined additional mitigation measures beyond what is permissible under the state’s Phase 4 mitigation guidelines are necessary to control the spread of COVID-19 locally,” David Powers, communications director for the village of Oak Park, said.
The public health order, issued by Terry on Feb. 4, covers many retail, health and fitness, and arts-related businesses, but the strictest mitigation measures impact bars and restaurants.
Under the Phase 4, the “Revitalization” stage of the Restore Illinois plan, restaurants would be allowed to open at 50-percent capacity, but Oak Park’s public health order aligns with the city of Chicago and Cook County Department of Health’s strategy to slow the reopening of bars and restaurants in hopes of avoiding a setback.
Under the order, all establishments offering indoor services must serve food and staff and patrons must wear masks unless actively eating. The order also keeps capacity restrictions at 25 patrons or 25 percent of capacity per room for indoors dining and prevents standing or gathering in establishments. Requirements limiting patrons to six per table and six feet between tables will also remain in place.
Laura Maychruk, Buzz Cafe owner, hopes to see things return to normal, but respects the decision made by the health department. The Buzz Café, 905 S. Lombard Ave., currently offers four tables for indoor dining — well under the 25-percent capacity limitation on indoor dining.
“Our clientele is not that comfortable dining indoors yet,” said Maychruk. “My staff and this community all feel it is best to err on the side of caution.”
Similarly, Ric Gruber, owner of Billy Bricks Wood Fired Pizza at 128 N. Oak Park Ave., has kept his return to indoor dining on the conservative side. Billy Bricks is operating under the 25-percent capacity limit and keeps three to four tables set up for indoor dining. The tables are intentionally kept 15 to 20 feet away from anyone entering the restaurant to pick up a carry out order.
“The Oak Park community has kept us alive and we have worked hard to be receptive to their feedback,” said Gruber. “Thanks to that support we have the luxury to sacrifice some capacity and remain as cautious as possible.”
Patrick O’Brien, of Scratch Restaurant Group with establishments in both Oak Park and Forest Park, said that while seeing some customers coming through the doors is great, percentage-based limits on service are not helpful from a business perspective.
“I think we are moving in the right direction, and I would rather do it slow and get it over with,” said O’Brien. “It is not profitable for a restaurant to operate at 25-percent capacity. Fifty percent is better, but it is tough to make a buck operating at 100-percent capacity in normal times.”