As Lollapalooza gets underway, Chicago nears COVID-19 benchmark of 200 new daily cases

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CHICAGO — On the opening day of Lollapalooza Thursday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she expects the city to start recording 200 new daily COVID-19 cases but noted that other key metrics give reason for “optimism, in quotes.”

Lightfoot earlier this week told The New York Times she would consider a mask mandate and other restrictions once the city returns to having at least 200 cases per day on average.

But at a news conference Thursday, Lightfoot noted that she’s concerned about rising cases but they aren’t doubling at the same rate they did last spring or fall.

“We’re not seeing a huge surge in hospitalizations. That’s important. Or ICU beds. Or people on ventilators,” she said.

The mayor did not say whether she will implement restrictions soon but reiterated her call for people to get vaccinated, especially as the delta variant rages through the country.

“Without that protection, you’re playing Russian roulette,” Lightfoot said.

The city’s average number of daily new cases inched up to 190 on Thursday, up from 185 the previous day and 117 over the previous week, but far below an April peak of nearly 650 new cases per day. Hospitalizations remain low, averaging 8 new instances daily, while the average number of daily deaths related to COVID-19 remains below 1.

Lightfoot also said she’s looking at the possibility of mandating vaccinations for Chicago city workers, but she said she’s still having conversations with workers unions.

“We’re looking at what’s happening in other circumstances and crafting a strategy that works for Chicago,” she said.

As for kicking off a music festival as COVID-19 cases continue to rise — one expected to attracts hundreds of thousands of people to Grant Park over the next four days — the mayor said .

Safety is a “primary consideration” at such gatherings, “and certainly this year.”

“We have had very robust planning around safety for weeks if not months leading into the start of Lollapalooza today,” She said, adding there’s been an effort to identify and mitigate “soft spots” around the perimeter of the festival site.

Lightfoot faces a complicated balancing act on the pandemic. She has encouraged residents to get vaccinated and warned about possible restrictions if the city sees spikes. But she also has made a point of emphasizing her desire to keep the city as open as possible. At times, it has led to some mixed messaging.

As cases rose last October, for instance, she regularly warned about tighter restrictions being forthcoming — then criticized Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker for again shutting down indoor dining.

Lightfoot is also facing some criticism from people who think Lollapalooza shouldn’t be allowed to happen this year as cases swell, or that more restrictions need to be imposed on the festival. Attendees must show they’ve been vaccinated or that they’ve received a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours before entering. That standard was loosened from a previous 24-hour window.

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