Indoor Dining Restrictions Have Been Officially Lifted In These US Cities

Following a recent announcement by the CDC regarding newly relaxed pandemic guidelines, major cities are dropping longstanding mask and vaccine requirements for indoor dining, potentially offering a leg up to the still-recovering restaurant industry.

According to the New York Times, the latest CDC guidelines — which have driven decision-making about city-wide mask and vaccination requirements in the past — suggest that an estimated 70% of Americans no longer need to social distance, wear masks, or avoid crowded indoor spaces.

In response to plummeting COVID hospitalization rates in the wake of the Omicron-driven spike in cases this winter, the disease prevention center announced that areas considered to be at "low" or "medium" risk of spreading the virus (which can be determined with the help of its COVID-19 county check) are able to drop most coronavirus prevention measures. This follows the lead of countries like Denmark, which announced it would be dropping all nationwide COVID restrictions in early February (via BBC).

For the restaurant industry, the relaxing of pandemic-era restrictions will enable staff and customers to go mask-free indoors — and also allow eateries to serve unvaccinated diners once again. While some states, counties, and cities never implemented sweeping vaccine or mask mandates for their indoor businesses, major metropolitan areas like Chicago and Los Angeles, which previously had mandates in place, are making big changes to COVID-19 policies following the CDC's announcement.

Various cities have begun dropping mask and vaccine requirements

In Chicago, where daily COVID-19 hospitalizations and confirmed cases recently reached their lowest levels since last July, according to the Chicago Sun Times, the city has dropped its indoor mask mandate for businesses and schools and its vaccination card mandate for restaurants, entertainment venues, gyms, and other facilities (via the City of Chicago).

Food & Wine shares Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn recently announced that restaurants and other indoor venues across the county will drop indoor mask mandates for fully vaccinated customers. Unvaccinated diners are still required to provide a negative test and wear a mask indoors while not actively eating or drinking, for the time being.

New York City is likely to be the next major metropolitan area to drop widespread indoor dining restrictions, according to NPR. In a tweet, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that vaccine requirements for indoor dining — which have been in place since late last summer — will soon be dropped, writing, "so long as our indicators show a low level of risk and we see no surprises this week, on Monday, March 7, [NYC] will remove the vaccination requirements for ... indoor dining, fitness, and entertainment venues."

The CDC warns that changes to the guidelines may not be permanent

However, the CDC's most recent guidance on masking and social distancing doesn't guarantee that mask mandates will be gone for good. In a press conference following the release of the new guidelines, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky noted that "none of us know what the future holds for us and for this virus, and we need to be prepared ... for whatever comes next" (via ABC News).

Walensky added that the CDC's latest guidance was designed to "give people a break from things like mask wearing when our levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again if things get worse in the future."

For now, restaurants and other indoor facilities, which still have the option to require vaccines and/or ask customers to continue wearing masks indoors, will be able to temporarily — or, hopefully, permanently — return to pre-pandemic protocols, offering a glimmer of hope for a return to normalcy across the entire bar and restaurant industry.