CHICAGO (CBS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot is loosening the city's COVID-19 restrictions, allowing for fans to return to the United Center for Bulls and Blackhawks games, and allowing restaurants, theaters, and other businesses to serve more customers indoors.
With 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in Chicago so far, and case numbers dropping, Lightfoot said the city can now "broadly loosen capacity restrictions" across the city.
"As many of you remember, we were seeing a troubling rise in our COVID numbers in March that caused our city to pause our cautious reopening plan. Since then, we've made significant progress in reversing this rise, and this combined with the ongoing distribution of the vaccine has allowed us to loosen phase four regulations comfortably, to allow for higher capacity across industries, and as a result, to launch this great initiative, open Chicago," Lightfoot announced Thursday morning at Navy Pier, which begins a phased reopening on Friday, and hosts its first fireworks display since 2020 on Saturday.
According to the mayor's office, new indoor capacity rules in Chicago include:
- Restaurants and bars: Indoor capacity can increase to the lesser of 50% or 100 people (up from 50% or 50 people);
- Spectator events, theater, and performing arts: Large indoor venues, including the United Center, can now operate at 25% capacity.
- Meetings, conferences, and conventions: Large indoor venues can now operate at the lesser of 25% or 250 people.
- Places of worship: Large indoor venues can now operate at 25% capacity.
- Festivals and general admission outdoor spectator events: Operate at 15 people per 1,000 sq. ft.
- Flea and farmers markets: Operate at 25% capacity or 15 people per 1,000 sq. Ft.
Bulls and Blackhawks officials said, although the city is allowing 25% capacity for the United Center, actual capacity will be closer to 20%, due to the social distancing measures they need to put in place. That means approximately 4,000 fans will be allowed at games.
The city had already allowed for 25% capacity for games and other events at Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, and Soldier Field. Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said, if the city's COVID metrics continue to improve, those capacity limits for outdoor stadiums could be loosened in the coming weeks.
The Blackhawks and Bulls will take a phased-in approach to hosting fans. Beginning May 1, the teams will host a few hundred player family members and team-invited guests only until welcoming the general public back to the arena on May 7.
For the last year, the United Center has been home to vaccinations, voting, and even food donations at the height of food insecurity during the pandemic. But as CBS 2's Marissa Parra reported, it has not seen sports fans during the pandemic up to this point.
"I'm excited!" said Gail Doherty. "I'm very excited."
Doherty is manager of the Billy Goat Tavern location at 1535 W. Madison St., just three blocks from the United Center.
"I mean, that's our – that's our money maker," she told CBS 2's Parra.
The tavern's busy season is basketball and hockey season.
"This whole thing would be full! We'd be three deep at the bar and every single table would be full," Doherty said. "We're the last bar before the United Center. They come in they have a beer, they go, we get them back out after the game, they have a beer, they go home! So it works out good for everybody."
Chicago is one of the very last NBA and NHL cities to begin allowing limited fans. For Doherty, no fans for a year at the United Center meant having to downsize staff at the tavern.
"Why couldn't they have made this announcement sooner?" Doherty said. "I'm from Wisconsin and they've been having stands for I don't know how many months."
Now, Doherty is hopeful that the news means more business, and that she can welcome back familiar faces.
"I wish it would have been sooner rather than later. It's like family when they come back," she said. "Hopefully next year, we'll be at full capacity. I'm hoping if everyone gets vaccinated and we can do that, then that would be a good thing."
The Bulls will start bringing fans back for their May 7 game against the Boston Celtics, while the Blackhawks will bring fans back for their May 9 game against the Dallas Stars.
Tickets for remaining Bulls games will go on sale next week at bulls.com and nbatickets.com, beginning Monday. Tickets will be released in phases, starting with exclusive presale for season ticket holders. The Bulls will also be donating a select portion of tickets for each home game to community partners and essential workers beginning on May 3.
- May 3-4 - Bulls Season Ticket Holder Presale: Bulls Season Ticket Holders will receive priority access to purchase single game tickets during an exclusive Season Ticket Holder presale window on May 3-4. Any fans who purchase a season ticket plan for next season at this time will be granted access to this exclusive presale. If interested in 2021-22 season ticket packages, fans can find more information here or call 312-455-4000.
- May 5 - General Public On-Sale: Any remaining tickets will go on sale for the general public beginning at 10 a.m. CT on May 5.
Tickets for remaining Blackhawks games also go on sale next week, beginning Monday at Blackhawks.com/Tickets. Current season ticket holders will get first dibs. New full season ticketholders who secure their seats for next season by Monday also will get priority access for this exclusive presale. Any remaining tickets will go on sale to the general public on Tuesday, May 4, at 12 p.m. on Blackhawks.com.
All tickets for both teams will be distributed as mobile tickets to aid in the contactless entry process. No paper tickets will be distributed.
Masks will be required inside the stadium, fans will be seated in pods of two to four people spaced six feet apart, the United Center will be split into dedicated entrance and exit points, fans will be required to complete a health questionnaire on their mobile device within 12 hours of the start of games, no bags will be allowed except for limited exemptions for medical bags or diaper bags, and all concessions will be cashless.
In addition, effective immediately, guests who are fully vaccinated – defined as 14 days after receiving their final vaccine dose – won't count towards capacity limits at private events such as weddings.
However, weddings, graduation parties, and other large gatherings must be private and held at licensed businesses, and guests must RSPV before the event. Business owners will be held responsible for confirming exempted guests are fully vaccinated, and keeping records.
The Chicago Park District also will resume its Night Out in the Parks program this summer, featuring a series of hundreds of cultural events. Movies in the Parks will resume in July.
Maggie Daley Park will reopen its miniature golf course and roller skating ribbon on Friday, with weekend rentals available for scooters and rollerblades. Weekday rentals will start on May 28.
The park's climbing wall and bungee will open to the public on May 28. Concessions at Maggie Daley Park will also be open. For details about Maggie Daley Park activities, visit www.maggiedaleypark.com.
The city also will turn on Buckingham Fountain this summer, with a "Switch on Summer" contest to flip the switch.
"We are ready and eager for the return of summer in Chicago as we know it. From leisure activities, like walking along the lakefront and watching Buckingham Fountain's nightly light spectacle, to music, theater, dance, and movies in our neighborhood parks, rediscovering the outdoors and reconnecting with the arts in Chicago will be an enriching experience for everyone this summer and fall," Chicago Park District Chief Administrative Officer Juliet Azimi said in a statement. "It is imperative, however, that we collectively continue to follow the safety guidelines that have been instrumental in our progress and will be part of these experiences for the immediate future."
The Shared Streets program, which closes local streets to through traffic, to allow residents more space to walk, bike, and rollerblade in their neighborhoods, also will resume this spring in various neighborhoods.
"We learned a lot in the last year about how with imagination and thoughtful planning, much of the outdoor space we took for granted could be transformed into valuable assets, into places for people to congregate safely and into a lifeline for our businesses," Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi said in a statement. "Working with our City and community partners, we created Shared Streets and Expanded Outdoor dining programs that were great success stories. And this year, we have new resources, and we are going to use those to build on that success."
To encourage more visitors to return to downtown, the city and the Chicago Loop Alliance will be transforming a stretch of State Street into an open street, closing State Street to vehicle traffic between Madison and Lake streets for up to 12 Sundays starting on July 11. State Street would be opened up to pedestrians to experience arts and culture events, active recreation, retail, restaurants and bars outside along State Street. The closures will last from 7:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m., and the event itself will take place from 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Learn more at LoopChicago.com/SundaysOnState.
The mayor's office said Windy City Smokeout will be the first summer street festival to return this year, bringing dozens of barbecue pitmasters and restaurants to the United Center parking lots in July, with up to 12,500 people per day.
All vendors, performers, ticketholders, and staff will be required to be fully vaccinated; and for non-vaccinated attendees, proof of a negative COVID PCR test will be required within 72 hours of entry to the event – in a likely preview of the city's "vax pass" concept to encourage people to get vaccinated with preferred seating or preferred admission for some events.
However, Arwady noted the "vax pass" idea will not be a requirement for people to be vaccinated for day-to-day activities like going to restaurants.
"We are not talking about a vaccine passport here. The 'vax pass' concept is really to have activities and events that are incentives for people who choose to get vaccinated, so we'll give some more details about this in May," Arwady said.
Lightfoot repeated Thursday that she believes the summer of 2021 will look more like 2019 than the pandemic summer of 2020. However, she declined to say if other large festivals like Lollapalooza and Pitchfork would return this summer.
"Obviously, we're in conversations with the people who have big iconic events over the course of the summer. Those events take a lot of time. You can't just flip the switch and turn on something as big as Lolla or some of the other big outdoor events," she said. "We feel very optimistic about what the summer is going to look like, including some big events, and that's as far as I'll go today. You'll have to hang with me and go chapter by chapter."
Arwady and Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareño also predicted the city would be able to move into Gov. J.B. Pritzker's "Bridge Phase" for further reopening in about two weeks, should the city's COVID-19 metrics continue to improve.
Lightfoot and Arwady both said they're hopeful the city can move toward a full reopening sometime this summer, but they said the city will continue to take a cautious approach to further loosening restrictions, in an effort to avoid having to reimpose restrictions again should COVID cases start to rise again.
"We're in a different place than we were even last summer, because we have the vaccine, but what I know from having talked to a lot of business leaders across the city and really across the country, is what they want is some predictability," Lightfoot said. "What they don't want is to have this expectation that they're going to get to a certain level, only to see that has to be retrenched because the numbers, the cases, the hospitalizations surge."
"I feel that it's likely, by this summer, if things continue the way they're going, and if we continue to see good vaccine uptake, that we will be at a place right where things can be opened broadly, but I want to reiterate that we need folks to get vaccinated," Arwady said.
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