The mask worn by Sandy Chen, owner of Koi, warns “If you don’t cover up, you’re fishing for trouble.” Photo by Annette Patko from the City of Evanston website

With the anticipated reopening of many businesses as Evanston and all other communities in the Northeast Region of the State move into Phase 4 of Governor JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, City of Evanston officials on June 24 held a question-and-answer session about how businesses can re-open safely.

Because of the social-distancing mandate – that a six-foot distance be maintained between customers (or groups of patrons in a retail shop, bar or restaurant) – most retail shops, bars and restaurants will be operating at about 50% of their capacity, said Paul Zalmezak, Economic Development Manager for the City of Evanston.

Mr. Zalmezak and Greg Olson of the City’s Department of Health and Human Services also offered the following information:

  • Since the mandates of the Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines will likely require a change of layout of businesses, business owners with questions about the sufficiency of their new layout may contact the City by calling 311 or emailing questions to
  • The six-foot distance between tables at a bar or restaurant is measured from the back of one occupied chair to the back of a chair at an adjacent table – the distance must be between people, not tables.
  • The standing area at a bar will be about 25% of the available space.
  • If a restaurant is going to use plastic barriers between booths, the barrier must span the entire length of the booth.
  • At least every half hour, employees should wash their hands for 20 seconds, including fingernails and between fingers.
  • Businesses should be cleaned regularly; frequently-touched surfaces, such as countertops, and high-traffic areas, such as to bathrooms, should be cleaned more often.
  • Employees should be screened for temperature and symptoms before they begin work. An employee with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater or who has even one symptom of COVID-19 should be sent home. If an employee is found to be infected with COVID-19, it is not necessary to shut down the business right away. A member of the Health Department will get in touch with that person and will notify the person’s contacts to self-quarantine.
  • Business-owners should continue to refer to and follow the IDPH guidelines.

To help businesses re-open safely and to help them make their customers feel comfortable, the City offers checklists for cleaning, and signs advising about social distancing. In partnership with Recover Evanston, the City has launched a program to encourage wearing face-coverings, which are mandatory. Business-owners can be photographed with masks alluding to their business. “Safety is our Principal Concern” reads the mask worn by Eric Young of La Principal. The mask worn by Sandy Chen, owner of Koi, warns “If you don’t cover up, you’re fishing for trouble.”

Three businesses on Main Street, La Principal, Wine Goddess and Trattoria DOC, will use a section of Custer Avenue for outdoor dining from about 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Each business will operate under separate hours, so patrons are encouraged to check with the individual businesses. 

Business organizations have posted information on their websites. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Roger Sosa said the Chamber is working with local businesses to make bulk purchases of personal protective equipment.

Referring to the guidelines for re-opening, Mr. Zalmezak said to the business-owners at the Q-and-A, “I don’t know how you do it on a good day. … Our next 120 days are crucial. Let us know how we can help you.”

Mr. Olson said, “The main driver of contagion is person-to-person [contact]. Don’t give up on hand-washing. … We want to stay in Phase 4. We don’t want to go back [to Phase 3 or earlier]. That’s why it’s very important that you inform your staff and follow the guidelines.”

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...