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A Look At How McCormick Place Is Undertaking COVID-19 Precautions To Draw Crowds Back

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's no secret that tourism is one of Chicago's biggest moneymakers and it's taking a huge hit.

Many visitors come to the Windy City for expos at McCormick Place, but nearly 200 events have been canceled there in the past 10 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But convention center organizers haven't let that time go to waste. They recently launched a website to draw crowds back.

CBS 2's Lauren Victory on Tuesday took us on a physical tour of changes made to keep customers safe.

Your first steps inside the McCormick Place campus are probably at hotel check-in at the Hyatt Regency. In arriving there, you'll find a clean greeting and a clean new design complete with matching sneeze guards.

There are also "social distancing markers to make sure you're appropriately spaced," said David Jacobs, General Manager at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.

The hotel team proudly told CBS 2 about six new cleaning managers – and a whole new cleaning program. Suffice it to say they're ready.

"We're prepared, yeah – excited," Jacobs said.

Our next stop was Doug Bradley's kitchen. Bradley is vice president of culinary at SAVOR McCormick Place.

The return of thousands of guests will mean lots of mouths to feed, although the food might look a little different.

"A cheese tray or crudité, those are standards in many reception-type of scenarios," Bradley said. "Now you get an individual pre-plated dish that will present well, but it'll be covered and it'll be protected."

Plastic partitions also cover and protect servers and customers. Large-scale food prep won't be elbow-to-elbow anymore either.

Also changed behind the scenes, there are now mandatory health screenings for staff and visiting vendors.

"In the halls, I think one of the biggest changes is that we've changed our airflow," said creator and Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority chief executive officer Larita Clark.

But so much else is different in these giant exhibition rooms. went live to show everything taken into consideration here.

They noted that McCormick Place allows for widened one-way aisles, and each meeting room is uniquely staged with socially-distanced seating.

The interactivity helps sales but also educates future visitors, according to Clark.

"I just think a picture is like a thousand words," she said. "You kind of like to know what you're walking into."

There's no telling what any of us are walking into this year, but this already feels better than 2020 – when the convention center's most crucial event was playing host to an emergency COVID-19 hospital.

Clark explains the Center won't host any events without permission and guidance from local health authorities. Technically, no large gatherings are allowed at this time.

The next big expo on the tentative calendar is the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show in May.

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