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Increased COVID-19 Positivity Rate In Chicago Prompts Mayor's Warning That Ballparks, Bars Could Be Closed

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago's COVID-19 positivity rate has grown from 2.8% on March 1 to 4.5% at the end of the month. The mayor is calling the increase a "quantum leap." With that comes a warning from the city's Office of Emergency Management about the upcoming baseball season -- if cases continue to rise ballparks and bars around them will be closed.

The Chicago Cubs' opening day is April 1, and there will be fans in the stands. Some business owners say six days of back to back games are very welcome after a year of virtually no business.

"I'm super stoked about it! We're going to get our 50 people," said Russell Bishop. "Obviously everybody wishes they could have more people, but this is obviously the safest course of action."

Bishop has owned Merkle's Bar and Grill in Wrigleyville for 15 years. He said he was among several business owners taking part in a webinar with Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday morning ahead of Opening Day. The focus of the meeting was reopening guidelines as COVID-19 cases rise in the city. 

"We put six-foot lines by the bathroom lines, so when people are waiting in line they're six feet apart," he said. "We have all of our signs up, you know, accordingly to remind people they have to be seated while they're in the bar unless they're using the restroom."

He said the last year took a toll physically and financially. He said now that his business has been open and operating within the guidelines, the average customer has been spending more, which has been great for business after a very long break.

The rules and regulations are what Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to make sure all businesses owners are following with both the Cubs and White Sox home openers. She had a stern warning as COVID-19 numbers continue rising in the city.

"We have over 400, almost 500 cases, on average as of today. That's a quantum leap from where we were even three weeks ago," she said. "That is concerning, and that is obviously dictating that we have to proceed with caution as we open up."

Bishop said he is aware of the stern warning issued by Lightfoot to business owners.

"It scares the living daylights out of me. I hope that every bar is doing the same thing we are," he said.

HVAC Pub owner Jason Felsenthal echoes that sentiment.

"It's important that we all follow the rules. The majority of us are and it's spiking now. But I think it will go down with the proper rules that the mayor and the governor's office has given us," he said.

Felsenthal said other than a small private party at HVAC on St. Patrick's Day, this is the first welcome burst of revenue for his pub since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago. He said there's been a lot involved to make this moment happen.

He has even stocked up on masks to make sure a customer who doesn't have one will get one when entering his pub.

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