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Gov. Pritzker orders bars, restaurants closed for two weeks

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker

    Gov. J.B. Pritzker

By Charles Keeshan
Daily Herald News Service
updated: 3/17/2020 1:13 PM

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Sunday ordered all restaurants and bars in the state closed to inside dining as of the close of business Monday until at least March 30, in a sweeping measure aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The order did not mention carryout, so it unclear whether people will able to walk into a restaurant directly to pick up an order.

Pritzker announced the order during a news conference during which he lamented that many people had not taken seriously earlier suggestions to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

"The time for persuasion and public appeal is over," he said. "The time for action is now. This is not a joke."

Under the order, restaurants still will be able to serve customers at drive-through windows and curbside pickup.

Pritzker hinted at the drastic measure during an appearance earlier Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." He said discussions of a lockdown stem in part from videos showing large groups of revelers gathering in Chicago bars Saturday to celebrate St. Patrick's Day weekend, despite health officials urging people to avoid crowds and practice social distancing.

"People aren't understanding that, even if you're healthy, even if you're young, that you may be a carrier. And you're going to hand it over to somebody else," Pritzker told host Chuck Todd. "COVID-19 is spreading because even healthy people can be walking around, giving it to other people. So we need to go on lockdown."

Pritzker said he and his staff could make a decision as early as today.

"Nowhere in the United States really has there been a lockdown on bars and restaurants, but it's something that we're seriously looking at," he said.

Those same images from Saturday night prompted Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to impose new limits on gatherings. Effective immediately, all businesses in Chicago that sell liquor will have a max capacity of 100 people, Lightfoot announced in a tweet Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, anger continued to mount over long lines that developed Saturday night at O'Hare International Airport's customs area as hundreds of travelers returning from Europe were forced to wait in line for hours to undergo screening.

Lightfoot said she wanted "to express my strong concerns and disappointment with the federal government's lack of preparedness in issuing new directives about airport screening. That fail is directly the cause of last night's unacceptable conditions at O'Hare and other airports across the country.

"Last night we saw their safety and security was seriously compromised and people were forced into conditions that are against CDC guidance and are totally unacceptable," Lightfoot said.

Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said he recognized wait times were unacceptable at some airports. "With this national emergency, there will unfortunately be times of disruption and increased processing times for travelers," he said. "CBP is working around the clock to minimize these inconveniences.

"As we work collaboratively with federal, state, and local agencies to address the spread of COVID-19, some of the resources of our partners are stretched thin," Morgan said. Pritzker said the situation at O'Hare could be even worse on Sunday, as a larger number of flights from Europe are expected to arrive.

"What should have happened, they should have increased the customs and border patrol numbers and they should have increased the number of CDC personnel on the ground doing those checks," he said. "They did neither of those. So last night as people were flooding into O'Hare Airport, they were stuck in a small area, hundreds and hundreds of people, and that's exactly what you don't want in this pandemic."

After sending a tweet Saturday night stating that the federal government needs to "get its (expletive) together," Pritzker said he received a call from a White House staff member "who yelled at me about the tweet."

Later Sunday, Pritzker tweeted that he had spoken with Vice President Mike Pence and the head of the Department of Homeland Security, and more staffing was pledged for O'Hare.

"We got quick action from the White House by working with @chicagosmayor (Lightfoot) and @SenatorDurbin (Sen. Dick Durbin), and I'll continue to work closely with Sen. Durbin to communicate our concerns to the federal government," Pritzker wrote in a follow-up tweet.

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