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Coronavirus in Illinois updates: Suburban Cook County under tougher COVID-19 restrictions starting Wednesday

Suburban Cook County and the Metro East region outside St. Louis will come under stricter rules meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, including a shuttering of indoor dining and bar service.

The two regions will join four other regions of the state under stricter rules that also include a smaller gathering cap of 25 people.

The numbers come a day after the state announced a record 6,161 known cases and 63 deaths. That brings the state’s total to 374,256 known infections and 9,505 fatalities.

There were 72,097 tests reported in the last 24 hours. The seven-day statewide positivity rate remained at 6.1% for a second straight day.

Here’s what’s happening Monday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:

Suburban Cook County and the Metro East region outside St. Louis will come under stricter rules meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, including a shuttering of indoor dining and bar service.

The two regions will join four other regions of the state under stricter rules that also include a smaller gathering cap of 25 people.

The suburban Cook County region has had eight consecutive days of test positivity rate increases and seven days of increased hospital admissions. It is the first region in the state to surpass the state-set threshold on hospital admissions that triggers the stricter rules."

At the beginning of the pandemic, we were concerned about overwhelming our hospitals and we must take action now to prevent that possibility," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “We are entering flu season and our hospitals are facing both COVID-19 and flu admissions.”

The Metro East region will see its reopening rolled back for a second time after surpassing a test positivity rate at or above 8% for three consecutive days. The region that includes several counties in southwestern Illinois and the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis was the first to see its reopening rolled back in August, but it later reached a state threshold that allowed that to be relaxed.

Will and Kankakee counties are also under the stricter rules for a second time, and DuPage and Kane counties also saw stricter rules meant to curb spread of the virus imposed last week.

In addition to indoor dining and bar service being closed in these regions, outdoor dining will need to close at 11 p.m., reservations will be required for restaurants and outdoor dining tables should be spaced six feet apart, according to the state-imposed rules.

Casinos and other gaming facilities must also close at 11 p.m. and limit capacity to 25%. —Jamie Munks

The pandemic-driven decline in dining out has had a silver lining for home cooks: The high-quality produce and meats typically destined for restaurants are increasingly finding their way to people’s kitchen tables.

Now one of Chicago’s top restaurant produce distributors is using its muscle to deliver fresh foods to consumers' doorsteps, bringing a heavyweight to a growing movement to bypass grocery stores and give shoppers direct access to high-quality farm products.

Fresh Midwest, a company launched by the family that owns Midwest Foods and Edible Cuts, home-delivers fresh meat and produce as well as snacks prepared in-house and meals and meal kits developed in partnership with restaurants.

It serves ZIP codes located between Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, but plans to expand throughout the region, south to Indiana, by the end of March.

The pandemic has transformed how people buy food. A surge in online grocery shopping sent grocers scrambling to satisfy customers' expectations of convenience. Whole Foods last week announced free same-day pickup for Prime members and Jewel-Osco recently introduced temperature-controlled pickup lockers at its stores. Some grocers are operating customer-free “dark stores” dedicated to filling online orders.

There are also more ways for shoppers to forgo the grocery store altogether and buy fresh food direct from suppliers, as business disruptions drive farms and restaurants to seek new revenue streams.

7:10 a.m. Cook County officials to announce availability of COVID-19 cash assistance program for residents

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and other county officials were scheduled Monday to launch a cash assistance program for people hit financially by the coronavirus pandemic.

Preckwinkle, several Cook County commissioners and officials with the Family Independence Initiative and the Community Economic Development Association of Cook County were scheduled to hold a news conference Monday morning to announce the county COVID-19 Recovery Resident Cash Assistance program.

The $1.2 million program is for suburban Cook County residents who have suffered financial setbacks because of “unpaid leave, care for vulnerable or infected relatives, or loss of wages due to business or school closures,” according to the website for the program. —Chicago Tribune staff

Here are five stories from last week related to COVID-19.

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