URBANA — At Urbana Garden Family Restaurant, Manager Vlora Selimi was just waiting on the official word that indoor dining was once again allowed before she began calling employees back to work.
The announcement from the state finally arrived Monday:
East Central Illinois’ 21-county Region 6, which includes Champaign, Douglas, Ford, Piatt and Vermilion counties, has met the requirements to exit Tier 3 COVID-19 restrictions, can skip past Tier 2 restrictions and move straight to Tier 1, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced.
Indoor service at bars and restaurants is allowed under Tier 1, with capacity limits.
“We will definitely go back to indoor dining. Really as soon as we can get everybody back to work, we’ll be ready,” Selimi said.
The state’s announcement meant Urbana Garden could potentially be ready to reopen for indoor service as soon as today, Selimi said.
Region 6 advanced from Tier 3 to Tier 1 after meeting the last remaining state requirement — COVID-19 hospitalizations declining for seven out of the last 10 days.
The region had already met the other requirements for test positivity rates and hospital bed capacity to exit Tier 3.
Also ready to recall furloughed employees back to work was Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano of Champaign.
Manager Cassidy Hoke said Monday she was waiting on word from Biaggi’s corporate office and the governor’s office to begin recalling employees, but the tables were ready and the restaurant was clean and ready to reopen for indoor service.
“We are just waiting for the step-down, and it’s going to be a really fast turnaround,” she said.
Given the limited capacity, Hoke said she won’t need to recall all Biaggi’s servers. But it will take some time to get employees back on the job, she said, so she anticipated reopening for indoor service Thursday.
Based on daily phone calls from customers, Hoke and Selimi both know the public is ready to dine indoors again at their restaurants.
Customers have called every day since Urbana Garden closed for indoor service, Selimi said.
“We’re taking 30 to 40 calls a day,” Hoke said. “I think it’s mostly people from out of town and wondering if we are open.”
Progressing to Tier 1 means restaurants and bars can be open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and resume indoor service with limited capacity — which is the lesser of 25 guests or 25 percent of the room capacity — as long as they serve food.
Wearing face masks and distancing requirements, such as tables spaced 6 feet apart, must continue. Patrons also won’t be allowed to sit at the bar or congregate standing at a bar.
Also under Tier 1, professional, cultural and social group gatherings can resume with a limit of 25 people or 25 percent of the overall room capacity.
While hospitalizations declined enough in Region 6 to move to Tier 1, deaths continued to rise Monday, with four more COVID-19 deaths in Champaign County and 50 statewide.
Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde warned easing up on restrictions doesn’t remove the threat of COVID-19.
“It does not mean anything has changed, or anything is safer. It means we now have the hospital capacity at this moment,” she said.
With vaccinations well underway, Pryde urged those who are at increased risk for the more serious effects of COVID-19, and those who are in contact with people at risk, to consider refraining from taking advantage of the loosened restrictions for now and maintaining precautions.
As of Monday, 12,321 Champaign County residents had been given the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 2,018 people had already gotten the second dose. Starting today, vaccinations are set to begin for people 65 to 74 with underlying health conditions.
“We will do another 5,000, 6,000 vaccinations this week,” Pryde said. “We just don’t want people to put themselves at risk. We don’t want people to put themselves at risk when we’re so close to getting them vaccinated.”
Higher tiers of restrictions could also return quickly for Region 6 if there’s a resurgence, she warned.
It’s important for everyone to continue wearing masks and taking other precautions, Pryde urged.
East Central Illinois’ Region 6 and northern Illinois Region 1 were the third and fourth of the state’s 11 COVID-19 mitigation regions to move to Tier 1.
With other tier changes Monday, five regions are now in Tier 2 (which still prohibits indoor service at bars and restaurants), and two other regions were moved from Tier 1 to Phase 4 of the state’s Restore Illinois plan, in which gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed.
Helping more regions advance in tiers was a new hospital surge staffing program also announced by the state Monday.
Under this program, hospitals with available rooms to expand their capacity, but without the staffing to open those rooms, will be able to partner with the state to get the staffing they need.
By making surge staffing available, the state and hospital leaders are confident that metrics can safely move away from bed limits to move through mitigation tiers and allow more regions to advance, according to the state department of public health.