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COVID In Illinois: How Is Dining In A Fully Enclosed Tent Different From Indoor Dining? State Officials Say It's Not At All

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's a dining dilemma that is on many of our minds – just how is eating in an enclosed tent different from eating inside a restaurant?

As CBS 2's Tara Molina reported, any tent or structure is supposed to have at least two sides open for restaurants to call it an outdoor dining space within Illinois state rules.

But with dropping temperatures, that is not happening everywhere.

COVID In Illinois: Cold-Weather Outdoor Dining In Chicago (MAP)

With indoor dining banned in Chicago and the city's surrounding suburbs, we've seen more and more tents pop up just so restaurants can keep their doors open and their lights on.

But how effective are they, really?

With some of the closed tent structures popping up, like one spotted outside a Willowbrook sports bar and grill, it is no different than an indoor dining room - equipped with heaters, electricity, and even carpet.

Some are criticizing restaurants, like a nearby chicken spot that took to Twitter to describe its fully enclosed "Cadillac" of tents complete with ceiling fans.

"In other words, you are indoors," Twitter user Dan Somers responded to the tweet from Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket in Willowbrook.

Others made light of the indoor-outdoor dilemma. One user tweeted: "I'm confused – we can't eat inside, but we can eat inside as long as the inside is outside. Got it."

A spokeswoman for Illinois Department of Public Health said the whole point of outdoor dining is ventilation. That is what health experts advise, and that is why at least two sides are supposed to be open.

As spokeswoman Melaney Arnold put it:

"Subject to any required municipal and/or local liquor commission restrictions and approval requirements, tents may be used for outdoor dining if at least two sides of the tent are open to allow airflow. If more than two sides of the tent are enclosed, this is considered indoors for purposes of the guidelines."

That is what is happening in Wheaton.

"It helps us out immensely," said Garrett Tabbert of Gia Mia Pizzeria in Wheaton.

The City of Wheaton still has streets blocked off, and open tents up, to help local business.

"About 12 extra tables," Tabbert said. "That can mean the difference of a couple thousand more dollars of sales. it can honestly keep us alive during this."

But again, as Arnold said, an enclosed tent is considered indoors by the state health department's guidelines.

Gov. JB Pritzker's office didn't address all of our questions Monday night, but did reiterate what constitutes an outdoor tent, as advised by Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

"Dr. Ezike has said that outdoor tents with four walls do not fit within the spirit of the mitigation," said spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh. "The goal of outdoor dining is to have airflow."

The state's guidelines on the subject can be found here.

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