Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot sounded the alarm on the continuing COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday, saying the city has to quash recent case increases or face the prospect of her reinstating public health restrictions to get the situation under control.
“All across the United States there have been increases in COVID-19 cases, including in central and southern Illinois, and right here in Chicago,” Lightfoot said.
Chicago also added Florida, Louisiana, Nevada and the U.S. Virgin Islands to its COVID-19 travel advisory Tuesday. City Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady urged people to reconsider traveling to those places.
Lightfoot expressed concern about the Lollapalooza music festival, which opens with huge crowds in Grant Park next week, while insisting at a City Hall news conference that she made the right choice in allowing the event to proceed.
Average daily new cases in Chicago are up to 90, after dipping to 34 per day last month, the mayor said.
“If we allow the virus to linger here in Chicago, we will likely see further mutations, some of which our current vaccines may not be able to protect against, and have to reinforce some of the restrictions that infamously defined 2020 and part of 2021,” she said.
In Chicago, more than 90% of those hospitalized and 95% of those now dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated, she said.
“This is a reality we can avoid, and it’s preventable,” Lightfoot said, calling for people to get vaccinated, particularly in neighborhoods on the South and West sides seeing virus spikes. She specifically cited the 60621 and 60633 ZIP codes.
As for Lollapalooza, which runs July 29 to Aug. 1, Lightfoot said she would make the same decision today to go forward with the music festival, even with cases on the rise.
“I feel like we made the right decisions, but we’re sounding the alarm today because we’re starting to see this uptick,” she said. “We’ve seen this before.”
Lollapalooza is a big boon to Chicago hotels, restaurants and other businesses that have seen revenue plummet during the pandemic. Having already staked Chicago to hosting the festival, the mayor would be hard-pressed to publicly second-guess her decision now even if she’s privately concerned.
With Chicago Public Schools set to reopen Aug. 30, Arwady noted that kids 12 and older who are eligible to get vaccinated would need to get their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine Monday in order to be fully protected by the time classes start.
Lightfoot has been eager to showcase Chicago as a big city that’s able to handle fewer restrictions. She moved the city’s full reopening up to June 11, removing capacity restrictions at restaurants and other businesses, and allowing the Cubs and White Sox to again fill their ballparks with fans.
While the mayor has throughout the pandemic warned she would not hesitate to reinstate tougher public safety guidelines, doing so during the summer after fully reopening would be a serious blow to residents’ psyche. Lightfoot would risk a backlash from Chicagoans who are just getting back to some semblance of normalcy, and could face a mutiny from business owners who were starved for customers for over a year before the city reopened.
There have been clear signs of recent trouble, however.
Last week, the city added Missouri and Arkansas back to Chicago’s emergency travel advisory amid rising COVID-19 numbers in those states thanks to the delta variant, breaking a several-week streak of no travel advisories. Unvaccinated travelers returning to Chicago from places under the advisory are asked to abide by quarantine or COVID-19 test requirements.
Since the start of June, no states had been on the city’s COVID-19 travel advisory as the pandemic appeared to ebb in the U.S. thanks to vaccinations. But as the more contagious delta variant began spreading and states hit a wall with vaccine outreach, positive tests began creeping up once again.
Statewide, coronavirus infections are surging as well, with the state on Sunday reporting more than 1,000 new daily cases for the first time since late May.
Illinois on Tuesday reported 745 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, bringing the average number of new daily cases over the past week to 834. As of July 1, the state was averaging 294 new cases per day, and the average had dipped as low as 222 in late June.
Hospitalizations statewide also are rising once again, along with the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units and on ventilators.
Deaths from COVID-19 remain near their lowest level since the start of the pandemic, with an average of seven fatalities per day during the week ending Tuesday, though a rise in deaths typically comes weeks after a surge in cases and hospitalizations.
(Chicago Tribune reporter Dan Petrella contributed to this story.)