Indoor dining shut down as COVID cases rise in Cook County

Devastating but necessary says Abu-Taleb, mayor and restaurateur

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

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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Reader Comments

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Susan Montgomery from Chicago  

Posted: October 28th, 2020 9:33 AM

We're moving back to Oak Park soon from the city. When we do, we'll maintain the same practice we have downtown: Order carry-out on weekends to support our local restaurants!

Dean Rogers  

Posted: October 27th, 2020 6:05 PM

I'll be at George's lunch counter Wednesday at 1:00 .

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 27th, 2020 4:13 PM

Press release in my inbox from County of DuPage this morning: . . "DuPage County to Provide COVID Relief for Restaurants, Bars" . . "The DuPage County Board on Tuesday approved a proposal that will provide $2.5 million in grants for DuPage County restaurants and bars that are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Board voted to set aside $2.5 million in federal dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as part of the Reinvest DuPage small business relief grant program overseen by Choose DuPage. QUOTE: "The restrictions imposed on restaurants and bars in DuPage County as a result of COVID-19 have devastated our restaurant and bar industry," said Finance Committee Chairman Bob Larsen. The proposal would also raise the revenue limit in the grant program aimed at restaurants and bars from $1.5 million to $4 million to expand eligibility. . .

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: October 27th, 2020 10:51 AM

Use those gift certificates as soon as possible in case the business goes out of business.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: October 26th, 2020 11:16 PM

Earl Hickey I know a few people who do not believe the virus is dangerous at all or think they had it and are immune to it. I know of one store that was closed down and was sanitized. They brought in new employees. I am amazed how well the leader of the country recovered basically over the weekend although I do not think it would be a good idea following along his example. Tracking back can only do so much because if you ate at 3 different restaurants with different people then it would become even more difficult. So the science is there that there is a virus and it spreads. As to prove where a person picked it up would require minimal movement for a period of time to track back with a better probability or in the unfortunate case of Mary Darnall, it was easier to track back. As for just assuming doing take outs is safe, I would want to know as a fact if the employees are adhering to the CDC guidelines and if the virus can not be transmitted by uncooked food such as salads, etc.. It may be a very good idea that the people who work to keep us safe do drop ins on restaurant workers to make sure they are following the CDC guidelines. I think there should be money made available to hire more people to do just simple drop ins since the guidelines do not require a degree to determine if the basics are being followed. The problem is getting the money and I do not think the current leader is going to send any money

Earl Hickey  

Posted: October 26th, 2020 10:49 PM

Janet Haisman It sounds as if you are saying that there is NO medical or scientific evidence that restaurants have been a vector for transmission of the virus. .

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 26th, 2020 10:36 PM

Exactly. "Do the take-out; buy gift certificates, and follow the guidelines." Short of stimulus that can only come from the feds- maybe starting in late January- the only other way to help OP restaurants is for the Chamber of Commerce and the Village to promote the above ways to get revenue to restaurants. I'll be doing take out at least a three times a week for the time being.

Mary Darnall from Oak Park  

Posted: October 26th, 2020 10:07 PM

Covid is no joke. I just received word tonight: Recently, my brother and his family gathered at a restaurant in Ann Arbor for dinner during a layover their son and his wife had before returning to LA. They had visited Kentucky to meet up with her dad. Long story short: Dad was tested and was Covid positive. Daughter brought it to Michigan and all five who were gathered for the meal have now tested positive. This has included hospitalizations across the board and varied presentations from mild flu-like symptoms, to cardiac issues and pneumonia. One member is still hospitalized. Do the take-out; buy gift certificates, and follow the guidelines. We need to help eradicate this virus so we can get our businesses back and our lives can resume.

Janet Haisman from Oak Park  

Posted: October 26th, 2020 9:20 PM

Due to privacy concerns, no one would be aware if any particular restaurant had any patrons or staff who developed Covid . I support as many restaurants as possible - it's going to be take-out, everyone! - but in this pandemic, I think the elected officials of our Village and state are making the hard decisions, and I thank them for that. It WILL end some day, but unless everyone wears a mask and is really socially distanced, it won't happen till there is a vaccine. Cross your fingers!

Earl Hickey  

Posted: October 26th, 2020 8:30 PM

Question: have there been any people who have contracted Covid 19 specifically traced to a particular restaurant?

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: October 26th, 2020 4:07 PM

Chris Carrier the weather changed cooler when the project started and there was one week of nice weather. What no one mentions is how close the tables were as they crowed together on the sidewalk. It seems people want to save the restaurants over saving the population. If there is government money to help support business owners then that would be great and if the businesses go out of business then when the pandemic is over there will be restaurants again. The main focus is keeping the population alive against a World enemy and when you have an enemy to fight then you use everything known to help defeat it. Right now we can slow the enemy down until we can eliminate it with a very safe and predictable vaccine. The last battle against the enemy was keeping the restaurants open and we are now learning that was not such a good idea

Chris Carrier  

Posted: October 26th, 2020 3:41 PM

I can't help but think about the decision to continue with the Lake street resurfacing project schedule and how losing those two months of outdoor dining might become the tipping point for some of those restaurants.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: October 26th, 2020 2:44 PM

This was not difficult to project that this would happen. I noticed cooks not wearing masks properly, and tables placed next to each other. I have walked in one restaurant and they do not even wear a mask. Calling to get any support to educate people on doing what they were suppose to do was never replied to. It is also human behavior to become more lax thinking things are not as bad as they are. I have even done that myself. This virus is not going anywhere until there is a proven vaccine and that is not a medical opinion. That is just what I think is required. So now lets start this again and maybe health departments will make sure to inspect restaurants. Also, I would not advocate the idea that instead of people not being able to meet at restaurants, end up having large gatherings at homes. Just ride out the time it will take and reduce the spread. Masks at this point should be handed out by government entities to make sure everyone can afford to have a mask and learn you have to change it from time to time

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: October 26th, 2020 2:03 PM

Wow. This will surely be devastating to so many local restaurants. Talk about a Sophie's Choice that needs our public officials need to make!

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