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Chicago reimposes a mask requirement for dine-in restaurant guests

Employees will also be required to wear a face covering.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurant guests and employees in Chicago will be required to wear facemasks again starting Friday, and civic officials warned that further restrictions may follow if the mandate fails to temper a spike in new COVID-19 cases.

“Our goal is to remain open, but careful,” said Allison Arwady, the medical doctor who heads the city’s Department of Public Health.

The requirement applies to all dine-in customers over age 2. Patrons dining outside are advised to wear masks if they’ve not been vaccinated, but will not be required to wear a face covering.

Employees can remove their masks in the kitchen or other interior spaces that are not accessible to the public. The exemption is waived if the staff member floats to other areas of the restaurant.

The reinstatement of a mask mandate was announced Tuesday afternoon at a press conference hosted by Arwady and Ken Meyer, acting commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protections. Both officials stressed the city was not reverting to the full array of protective measures that had been imposed during earlier COVID spikes, such as capacity restrictions, but held out the possibility of those measures being adopted if infection rates fail to fall.

In an apparent acknowledgement of the controversy further restrictions would likely stir, Meyer commented, “We are not here to hurt businesses, we are here to protect all Chicagoans.”

Arwady has indicated that Chicago officials will monitor New York City’s experiences with the nation’s first-ever vaccination mandate for restaurant guests and employees. As of Tuesday, access to the dining rooms of New York restaurants will be limited to patrons and staff members who can prove they’ve received at least one inoculation shot.

She said Chicago’s reinstated mask mandate will remain in effect until COVID infections fall below the current rate of 400 new cases per day. Arwady noted that the pace had climbed in past spikes to as many as 3,500 new cases per day.

Chicago’s move is the latest instance of a major restaurant market attempting to slow the spread of the delta coronavirus by resurrecting unpopular safety measures that sunset months ago. The delta variant is believed to spread twice as easily as earlier forms of the virus.

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