As Lollapalooza rages amid COVID-19 surge, city’s top doc says there’s ‘no current plans to close down Chicago again’

As Lollapalooza rages amid COVID-19 surge, city’s top doc says there’s ‘no current plans to close down Chicago again’

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, discusses Chicago’s COVID-19 response during a news conference Sunday morning at City Hall in the Loop. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“We need people please once again to step up” by getting vaccinated and following renewed guidance on wearing masks indoors, Dr. Allison Arwady said Sunday.

Hours before 100,000 people flooded Grant Park for the final day of Lollapalooza amid the latest rise in coronavirus cases, the city’s top public health official on Sunday insisted the city has “no goal or current plans to close down Chicago again.”

“But we need people please once again to step up” by getting vaccinated and following renewed guidance on wearing masks indoors, Dr. Allison Arwady told reporters during a City Hall news conference alongside Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

With the highly infectious Delta variant sparking a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide, Lightfoot’s administration has faced criticism over the decision to allow Lollapalooza to continue.

Three days after speaking at the festival, the mayor lauded the steps organizers have taken to ensure attendees are safe, noting that 90% have shown proof of vaccination. She added that “millions” of people have already attended events since the city fully reopened in June, including White Sox and Cubs games and smaller festivals.

“We’ve been able to open but do it with care because of the vaccinations. So I feel very good about what we’ve done; obviously, we’ll know a little bit more in a week to 10 days,” Lightfoot said. “But we have to keep pushing the fact that the unvaccinated are the people that are at risk.”

A masked festival-goer stands among thousands of unmasked people during Mick Jenkins’ show Friday afternoon on the second day of Lollapalooza at Grant Park. Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
A masked festival-goer stands among thousands of unmasked people during Mick Jenkins’ show Friday afternoon on the second day of Lollapalooza at Grant Park.

On Thursday, she thanked the Lollapalooza crowd for “masking up and vaxing up,” though photos and video from the festival show few have done the former. Lollapalooza organizers have since instituted a mask mandate for indoor spaces on festival grounds.

Asked Sunday about unmasked festival attendees packing CTA trains this weekend, Lightfoot had an uncompromising message: “Do not get on public transportation in the city without a mask.”

“I hope that we don’t have to get to a point where we’re writing people tickets,” she said. “But if we need to, to get the word out and make sure that people are compliant, we absolutely will.”

After the CDC recommended indoor masking in areas with “substantial and high transmission” of the virus, the city fell in line on Friday. Arwady on Sunday said Chicago is now seeing an average of roughly 206 new COVID cases each day and eight or nine hospitalizations. But, she added, the level of transmission here isn’t as serious as it had been with previous surges.

Still, a spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he abandoned his plans to attend Lollapalooza over new concerns about the virus.

“Out of an abundance of caution, with cases on a sharply increasing trajectory and with the CDC’s finding Friday that vaccinated individuals can transmit the virus, the governor did not attend Lollapalooza,” spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement.

Though concerns about “breakthrough” infections among those who are vaccinated have grown, Arwady noted that 99.9% of vaccinated Chicagoans haven’t been hospitalized. As she and Lightfoot pushed inoculations as the best tool to fight the virus, Arwady dispelled certain misinformation that’s spread online, including claims that vaccines contain microchips and that hundreds of thousands of people have died after getting vaccinated.

Over 50% of residents have completed a vaccine series and nearly 60% have received one dose, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. But in some areas — including South Deering, South Shore, Auburn Gresham, Austin and Roseland — vaccination rates remain below 50%, Lightfoot said.

“You are playing with your life,” Lightfoot said to those who are unvaccinated. “As we’ve seen — not only here in Chicago, but across the world and across the country — the delta variant is real, it is vicious and it attacks those that are not vaccinated.”

Any Chicagoan 12 or older is eligible for an at-home vaccination. To make a vaccination appointment, visit zocdoc.com/vaccine or call (312) 746-4835.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot wears a face mask as she listens to Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, discuss Chicago’s COVID-19 response during a news conference Sunday morning at City Hall in the Loop. Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Mayor Lori Lightfoot wears a face mask as she listens to Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, discuss Chicago’s COVID-19 response during a news conference Sunday morning at City Hall in the Loop.

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