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NORTHBROOK, Ill. (CBS) — With COVID-19 numbers on the rise, suburban Cook County is dangerously close to a new round of dining restrictions.
It could be another blow to a beat-up industry, and some restaurateurs are worried that it will be. But CBS 2’s Marie Saavedra found one chef willing to do anything – even shut down – if it gets us on the other side of the virus.
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Walk into Chef Sarah Stegner’s Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook, and you’ll experience the sounds and smells of a kitchen – and diners filling booths. It looks almost pre-pandemic. Almost.
“We followed the rules from beginning to end,” Stegner said.
The Prairie Grass Café has a loyal clientele helping the restaurant break even. From to-go only to welcoming diners back, the only constant has truly been change.
“This long, slow kind of middle ground seems to be painful for everybody,” Stegner said.
Her restaurant, and every other one in suburban Cook County is teetering on the edge of another change.
“We are really evaluating on a day-to-day basis,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin of the Cook County Department of Public Health.
Rubin said the COVID-19 positivity rate in suburban Cook County is up – and new daily cases, once in the 200s, are climbing too.
“I mean, we were very scared when we saw a couple of days close to 600 or even in the 500s,” Rubin said. “But we don’t just look at those things.”
The county also weighs hospital admissions and ICU beds. But if the numbers stay high in the coming days, Dr. Rubin says the county will be forced to shrink dining room capacities yet again.
Whispers of these changes put restaurateurs back in limbo. But Chef Stegner has a take on what to do next that you rarely hear in her industry.
“I know it’s not popular,” she said. “But if we would just do it, and reopen, everybody would be better off.”
Be it smaller capacity or a full shut down, she’ll take it – for a set amount of time – if it will really make a difference in stamping out the virus.
“For me, what I would ask is it’s not just the restaurants, that it needs to be across the board,” Stegner said. “If it is serious enough that people’s lives are at stake, then let’s do this.”
So Stegner will wait and watch the numbers – hoping they stay low, so someday, more people can safely fill her seats.
“I feel it’s important to step up, and it should be all of us,” she said.
We asked the Illinois Restaurant Association for its take on possible new restrictions. The organization said another round of closures would put countless people out of work and force some businesses to close for good.
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