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When will Chicago reopen and what are the latest social distancing rules?

Everything you need know about how to protect yourself as conditions change in Chicago

Zach Long
Morgan Olsen
Written by
Zach Long
&
Morgan Olsen
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With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Chicago and throughout most of the United States, rules, regulations and safety procedures that were put in place as businesses reopened are once again in flux. However, the Centers for Disease Control's guidance for protecting yourself and others hasn't changed all that much since this summer, and that's reflected in what the state and the city has been telling residents. Now, more than ever, it's still a good idea to maintain 6 feet of social distance from others when in public, wear a face covering and wash your hands frequently. We still don't know when a vaccine will become available, so taking steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is vital. Take a closer look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding reopening and current social distancing guidelines in Chicago.

What phase of the reopening plan is Chicago in now?

As of June 26, Chicago is in Phase 4 of Mayor Lightfoot's five-phase plan to reopen the city. It's the penultimate phase of the city's reopening plan, which means that we're going to be living in Phase 4 for a while—at least until an effective treatment or a vaccine becomes available.

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Is Chicago still under a “stay-at-home” order?

No, the city's "stay-at-home" order officially ended on June 3 (and the state's let up on May 29) and Chicago is now in the process of cautiously reopening.

It's worth noting that Mayor Lori Lightfoot has warned that the city's phased approach doesn't just move forward. If there's a spike in confirmed cases, the city can decide to move back into a more restrictive phase, which means that there's a possibility of a future "stay-at-home" order.

Do I still need to wear a face covering?

Yes, the official advice from the city, the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to wear a face covering when you're around others while maintaining 6 feet of social distance.

Many local businesses are requiring customers to wear face coverings to gain entrance, though restaurants, bars and movie theaters will allow patrons to remove their masks while eating or drinking.

If you don't have a face mask yet, you should get one—for the safety of yourself and others. Here's a list of Chicago businesses that are selling face masks.

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Can I visit my family and friends?

Visiting friends and family is a touchy subject at the moment, especially in light of the city's guidance that Chicagoans limit their “personal bubble” of friends and family members to no more than six people. "This is spreading, and this is why we recommended last week and continue to recommend that you not invite anyone into your home that does not live there," Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady stated on October 27.

If you must see family and friends, outdoor gatherings where everyone is wearing a mask seem to be the safest option, though Illinois is limiting gatherings in Chicago to 25 people or fewer.

What happens if I break the rules?

While there haven't been any official announcements about enforcement of social distancing guidelines in Phase 4, it will likely stick to much of the guidance established under Illinois "stay-at-home" order. Law enforcement has been authorized to intervene when they encounter "crowds of people gathering" (current regulations limit this to 25 people or 25 percent of room capacity, whichever is smaller), "a flagrant violation" (such as an unauthorized business reopening) and "employees being asked to report to work in-person where the business is not supposed to be open or appropriate social distancing precautions are not taking place."

In press conferences, Mayor Lightfoot has made it clear that no one will be arrested for not wearing a face covering. She's hoping that Chicagoans will self-enforce the guidelines the city has provided, encouraging others to wear face masks and maintain social distance.

In Chicago, we know that the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection will be enforcing the new safety guidelines given to businesses that have been able to reopen. We expect that law enforcement may also get involved if customers decide to violate social distancing and face covering guidelines that have been imposed on businesses.

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How can I protect myself from COVID-19?

There's currently no vaccine for COVID-19, but there are several things you can do to protect yourself and others. Like cities around the world, Chicago recommends that folks wash their hands often, maintain 6 feet of distance between yourself and others in public, wear a cloth face covering when you leave the house, disinfect surfaces frequently and stay at home if you're feeling sick.

Can I get tested in Chicago? Where?

Yes, there are various locations throughout the city (including clinics, hospitals, immediate care centers and health centers) where you can go to receive a COVID-19 test. The Illinois Department of Public Health has assembled a map of all testing locations in the state, accompanied by the requirements for testing. Many sites require an appointment or a curbside exam, so reach out to your chosen testing site if you have any doubts about whether or not you qualify for testing.

You can get a free test in Chicago (regardless of whether or not you have health insurance) by scheduling an appointment via ChicagoCOVIDtesting.com or by calling 312-746-4835. 

It should be noted that state-run facilities (and many other testing providers) are offering free tests, regardless of whether or not you have health insurance. If you're not sure if your test will be free or not, make sure to reach out to the testing facility to confirm.

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Can I ride the CTA?

Yes, CTA trains and buses are still running on regular schedules, with new cleaning procedures and safety measures in place to protect passengers and operators. Capacity is being limited to approximately 15 customers on standard 40-foot buses and approximately 22 customers on 60-foot articulated buses and each train car (though it's unclear how this is being enforced). The use of face coverings is also recommended, though it is not being enforced by operators.

To help riders avoid congested commutes, CTA is releasing a weekly bus-crowding report that uses ridership data to track the best times to ride less crowded buses. Additionally, the CTA is encouraging customers to use alternative modes of transportation (like walking or biking) for shorter trips, allowing the CTA to be used by essential workers and people with mobility issues.

Can I return to work?

Though office-based jobs were given the go-ahead to reopen as of June 3, Mayor Lightfoot advised that anyone who can work from home continue to do so, as not to overwhelm the CTA. She also encouraged businesses to stagger their start and end times for the same reason.

While you may be able to return to your office, many companies across the city and the country are rightfully allowing their employees flexibility during this time, and some have committed to remote work for the foreseeable future.

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When will Chicago restaurants and bars reopen?

While Chicago restaurants and bars were able to reopen outdoor and indoor spaces with limited capacity in Phases 3 and 4, respectively, new guidelines issued by the state on October 30 only allow for outdoor dining. Reservations are required, only one party may be seated at each table and businesses must close from 11pm to 6am each evening.

These new rules join the safety guidelines that were already in place for restaurants and bars welcoming back customers. Patios and rooftops are reconfigured to allow for 6 feet between tables, servers are required to wear masks and group dining is limited to six people. Guests are also required to wear masks when they're not eating or drinking, or whenever they're interacting with their server.

As dining moves outdoors during Chicago's coldest season, many restaurants and bars are getting creative, creating cozy structures that allow patrons to enjoy themselves outside.

Have Chicago salons reopened?

Put down the scissors and step away from the at-home dye kit. Chicago barbershops and hair/nail salons were allowed to reopen on June 3. Like other business sectors, salon owners are proceeding with an abundance of caution, which includes providing PPE for employees, asking guests to wear masks and spacing out customers in accordance with social-distancing rules. Several salon owners gave us a rundown of what it will be like to get a haircut in the immediate future.

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Have Chicago movie theaters reopened?

As of June 26, movie theaters are able to reopen their auditoriums. But it won't be business as usual; each theater will be limited to 25 percent of its capacity or 50 people (whichever is less), rows will be decommissioned to create space between groups and face masks will be required (unless you're in your seat digging into some popcorn).

Sadly, with a few notable exceptions, most movie theaters throughout the city aren't open at the moment—many are claiming it's because there are no new movies to show. If you simply must see a movie on the big screen, a number of drive-in movie theaters have popped up throughout the city, with programming leaning on classic movies like The Blues Brothers and Star Wars. Will they continue through the winter? Your guess is as good as ours.

Are outdoor attractions like the Lakefront Trail and the 606 open?

As of June 22, the Lakefront Trail and the 606 have reopened under a new set of safety guidelines. Visitors can walk, run, bike or rollerblade on the paths, but they'll need to keep moving—to prevent crowding, sitting down to admire the view or have a picnic isn't allowed at this time. 

Access points to the Lakefront Trail are limited (the Park District is hosting a map of the available entry points) and face masks are required on both the lakefront and the 606. Social distancing ambassadors will be present on both trails to remind guests of the rules. And don't even think about heading for the beach—for the time being, they're still closed to the public.

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Can I still go shopping?

Yes, the arrival of Phase 3 allowed non-essential retail stores to reopen, including clothing boutiques and record shops. The city is mandating a 25 percent capacity for non-essential retail stores and a 50 percent capacity for essential retail stores (grocery stores, home improvement stores, etc.). You may have to wait in line for entrance if you're visiting a popular retail store on a weekend or in the evening. And keep in mind that all non-essential businesses must close by 11pm each night.

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