Protesters should quarantine to prevent spread of COVID-19, Lightfoot says

Protesters should quarantine to prevent spread of COVID-19, Lightfoot says

Hundreds of peaceful protesters gather on Daley Plaza on May 31, 2020 to protest George Floyd’s death. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“Please, in exercising your First Amendment rights or if you are out for any other reason, you have now put yourself at risk and we need you to isolate yourself,” the mayor said Monday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her top public health official warned that protesters and others who gathered in groups over the weekend may have exposed themselves to COVID-19 and should take precautions to avoid infecting others.

Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in a news conference Monday that the weekend’s protests over the death of George Floyd that drew thousands to Chicago’s streets may have exposed many to the virus.

Both Lightfoot and Arwady encouraged Chicagoans to isolate at home if they believe they may have been exposed to the virus through group gatherings and asked the same people to avoid contact with high-risk individuals, including the elderly and people with health conditions.

“COVID-19 has not disappeared from Chicago,” Lightfoot said. “We worry about the thousands of people that have been out in the streets over the last few days. Please, in exercising your First Amendment rights or if you are out for any other reason, you have now put yourself at risk and we need you to isolate yourself.”

The warning comes as Chicago was beginning to see the growth of virus cases slow. The mayor said she is concerned about a resurgence.

“God forbid that we see a spike that overwhelms our health care resources just as we saw light at the end of the tunnel,” Lightfoot said. “We need now to be careful and to take precautions.”

Arwady noted that public health officials “were finally, finally seeing major progress against COVID here in Chicago.” However, “while we continue to make progress, I am concerned that this weekend — not just related to the protest but related to a lot of people gathering in Chicago for a lot of reasons — we may see ourselves take a step backwards down the line against COVID in Chicago and that’s because COVID-19 is caused by a virus and that virus does not care what else is going on in the city.”

Arwady reminded residents that a stay-home order is still in effect and that people should maintain a 6-foot distance from each other and wear a mask or other covering over the mouth and nose.

“Nothing has changed unfortunately related to COVID-19,” Arwady said. “We still do not have a treatment, we still do not have a cure, we do not have a vaccine. COVID-19 still takes every opportunity it can to spread, and I’ll remind you that still here in Chicago we are seeing hundreds of new cases of the COVID-19 every day and we’re seeing that particularly in settings where people are unable to keep a 6-foot distance or unable to wear the face coverings that serve some protection for yourself, but importantly, help protect others.”

The comments were made during a City Hall news conference to address the aftermath of this weekend’s protests. Lightfoot pivoted to note COVID-19 is “the other danger that we cannot lose sight of.”

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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