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Mayor Lori Lightfoot Easing Outdoor COVID-19 Restrictions; Keeping Current Indoor Limits

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A day after "sounding the alarm" about rising COVID-19 cases in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is keeping existing restrictions in place on indoor dining, gatherings, and other activities, while increasing capacity limits for events held outdoors, where the virus is less likely to spread.

The Chicago Department of Public Health said the current indoor capacity limit for bars, restaurants, social events, spectator events, houses of worship, and other businesses will remain at 50% of normal capacity or 50 people per room, whichever is less.

But bars and restaurants will be allowed to increase the maximum table size for outdoor dining to 10 people, as long as tables remain spaced six feet apart.

Weddings, potlucks, and other outdoor social events can increase total outdoor capacity to 50% or 100 people, whichever is less.

Outdoor sports stadiums, theaters, performance venues, and other seated spectator events with a normal capacity of 200 or more can operate at 25% capacity. That's a slight increase in the 20% capacity originally allowed for Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox home games when the city announced earlier this month that fans could return to Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field.

Smaller outdoor performance venues can operate at no more than 50% capacity or 50 people, whichever is less.

Outdoor religious gatherings will not face capacity limits provided they maintain six feet of social distancing between parties.

Health and fitness centers can increase capacity for outdoor classes to 100 people.

In a phone call with reporters, Lightfoot defended increasing outdoor capacity limits even while warning about a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Chicago. The mayor said the recent increase in cases is largely the result of people not wearing masks during indoor activities.

Lighfoot said the city has seen an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases concentrated in the Lincoln Park, Old Town, Dunning, Portage Park, and Old Irving neighborhoods, particularly among young adults between 18 and 39 years old.

The mayor said the increase is reminiscent of what happened last October before the fall surge.

"We don't see a downward trend in the short term," Lightfoot said.

City officials said the city's virus metrics have been climbing in recent weeks, following three months of stability or steady decline. New daily cases are now averaging 365 new cases per day, a 23% increase from one week ago, and is now in the "high-risk" level, after seeing new cases increase by at least 10% for the at least five days in a row.

Emergency room visits for COVID-like illnesses are up 38% in the past week.

"Over the last few weeks we have seen increases across our metrics, and I am concerned," said Dr. Allison Arwady, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. "Throughout the pandemic we have promoted caution as we reopen, and unfortunately this pandemic is clearly not over yet. While we have made great progress, I urge all Chicagoans to double down on the safety measures that we know work – wear a mask, keep gatherings small, and maintain social distancing."

The mayor said she doesn't believe the recent uptick in cases in Chicago will affect Chicago Public Schools' plan to resume in-person classes for high school students next month.

CPS has set a "target date" of April 19 for high school students to be allowed back in school buildings, but the district is still negotiating the high school reopening plan with the Chicago Teachers Union. Pre-k and elementary students already have the option of attending in-person classes.

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