A full reopening of Chicago by 4th of July? That’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan: ‘We are too close to accomplishing this mission to give up now’

Chicago's Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a science initiative event at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski
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Gregory Pratt, Chicago Tribune
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After more than a year of living under coronavirus pandemic restrictions, Chicago is on the verge of fully reopening by the Fourth of July and potentially opening the door to bigger events and festivals throughout the city this summer, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday.

Lightfoot’s optimistic pronouncement comes with a major caveat — one that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker echoed: continue keeping the coronavirus at bay.

“Every day that our COVID-19 metrics continue to tick downward brings us a day closer to being able to put this pandemic in the rearview mirror, and we are too close to accomplishing this mission to give up now,” Lightfoot said at a news conference where she joined other officials to hail the auto show’s pending return to McCormick Place. “Our goal, ladies and gentlemen, is to be fully open by July 4. I am working night and day toward this goal.”

Lightfoot announced her goal days after relaxing pandemic rules on indoor gatherings by expanding the number of people allowed inside bars, restaurants and churches, reopening large venues such as the United Center and boosting capacity at outdoor festivals and farmers markets.

“We will be … one of the first cities to fully and safely reopen in the nation,” Lightfoot said Tuesday.

The mayor said she was at Navy Pier on Saturday night and was impressed by “the level of enthusiasm” from the people there, who were enjoying a fireworks show while being masked and following social distance rules.

“We’re seeing on a daily basis steady progress in all the metrics that we follow,” including case rates and positivity, she said. City modeling suggests Chicago will continue to improve, which will allow further reopening, Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot’s plan may sound optimistic but if current trends hold, the state could move to full reopening under Pritzker’s revised plan by early-to-mid June.

Pritzker said Monday that Illinois is on track to enter the “bridge phase” of his plan as soon as next week, though the state Department of Public Health declined to give a specific day.

“At least on the trajectory that we’re on now, it looks like that we will be on a very similar timeline,” Pritzker said. “I want to make sure though that … I emphasize something that the mayor said which is, we can’t predict the future, and this virus has proven to be very challenging.”

While Pritzker has issued statewide rules limiting capacity and requiring masks, among other safety measures, the state largely has left it up to local officials to police businesses, resulting in uneven enforcement.

Once the state is in the bridge phase, which includes higher capacity limits on a wide range of businesses and activities, Pritzker’s plan calls for a 28-day monitoring period before all limits and restrictions are lifted. That’s assuming coronavirus cases and hospitalizations remain stable or decline. The state already is well past the threshold of more than half of residents 16 and older having received at least one vaccine dose, which Pritzker set has a prerequisite for a full reopening.

The governor has said the state will leave its mask mandate in place until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives the OK to lift it.

In the state’s bridge phase, businesses in a wide range of categories, from offices to retailers to gyms, would be allowed to operate at 60% capacity, up from 50%. Amusements parks, museums and zoos also would rise to 60% capacity from the current 25%. Ticketed and seated spectator events, as well as theaters and performing arts, also would have a 60% capacity.

Additionally, indoor social events would have a maximum capacity of 250 people, while outdoor event capacity would rise from a maximum of 100 to 500 people. Festivals and general admissions for outdoor spectator events would increase from 15 people per 1,000 square feet to 30.

President Joe Biden previously had expressed aspirations during a prime-time speech in March that Americans could “mark our independence from this virus” by July 4. Chicago and Illinois could be on pace to meet Biden’s goal.

Across the country, business restrictions and mask mandates vary by individual states and cities with some more stringent than others. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, last week said he expected coronavirus restrictions there would be lifted by July 1, allowing the city to “fully reopen.”

When asked the extent of what Lightfoot meant by a full reopening and whether that was an indication that large summer festivals were getting the go-ahead this year, Lightfoot said to stay tuned.

“We have been in conversation with a lot of the big festival and outdoor event planners for some time now, and keeping them up to date on where we think we’re making progress,” Lightfoot said. “We can’t predict the future, but we feel very confident, if we continue to follow the public health guidance and get people vaccinated, that this summer is going to be very different, very festive, and we’re going to bring arts and culture and music back to the city, which I think will be a great boost to all of us.”

Lightfoot’s July 4 goal also coincides with a new vaccine initiative announced by Biden with a goal of having 70% of the adult population to have at least one shot and 160 million U.S. adults to be fully vaccinated by the nation’s birthday.

The White House said the next phase of the nation’s vaccination campaign will direct tens of thousands of pharmacies to offer walk-in appointments and redirect Federal Emergency Management Agency resources from mass vaccination sites to support more pop-up clinics, smaller community sites and more mobile clinics.

It also involves shipping new allocations of the vaccine to rural health clinics across the country and provides additional funding to help communities do vaccination outreach and engagement.

Chicago’s COVID-19 metrics as of Monday showed a continued decline, with the seven-day rolling positivity rate at 4.6%, versus last week’s rate of 4.8%. The daily average caseload was at 508, a 7% drop from the previous week but still above public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady’s preferred ceiling of 400.

Statewide, the positivity rate and the number of people being admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 are also dipping.

The seven-day positivity rate for coronavirus cases as a share of total tests stood at 3.3% Monday, the lowest since the same rate was recorded March 31, public health officials said.

As of Monday night, 2,074 people in Illinois were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 493 patients in intensive care units and 262 patients on ventilators. The seven-day average of total hospitalizations reached 2,035 Monday, the lowest since an average of 2,028 was recorded April 16. Officials reported 2,211 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, accounting for a seven-day case average of 2,658, the lowest since an average of 2,602 was reported April 1. Monday’s case count resulted from 57,483 tests.

With vaccination coverage in Chicago still far from ideal, Arwady on Tuesday announced the first of several events that will be exclusive for people who are vaccinated as the city’s latest campaign to tempt people, particularly young adults, into getting the shot. Dubbed the “Protect Chicago Music Series,” the first bash will be a special concert on May 22 at the Silver Room in Hyde Park featuring DJs Ron Trent and Duane Powell.

“To attend this event, you do need to be vaccinated,” Arwady said. “(I’m) so excited about that. These are the sorts of things we want to do to really incentivize vaccination in a way that’s very positive.”

To promote the restricted event, Apostolic Faith Church in Bronzeville will host a vaccination drive Saturday and give all patients a “pass” to the concert. For those who already are vaccinated, ticket sales for the concert will open online next Monday. Attendees must present their CDC vaccination card to qualify, Arwady said.

Arwady and Lightfoot have previously teased the entry requirements as a “Vax Pass” but later clarified that the idea should only be seen as an incentive to get the shot. Still, the May 22 concert was billed as a no vaccination, no entry event.

In an appeal to southern Illinoisans, meanwhile, Pritzker announced during a stop at the state-owned World Shooting and Recreation Complex in Sparta that Amateur Trapshooting Association’s Grand American World Trapshooting Championships would return to the site in August. The competition was moved to Missouri last year because Pritzker’s coronavirus-related restrictions prevented events of that size from being held in Illinois.

“I know everyone that’s standing with me today shares my excitement for what … bringing the Grand back to Illinois means for all of us,” said Pritzker, who was joined at the news conference by state Sen. Terri Bryant of Murphysboro and Rep. David Friess of Red Bud, both Republicans. “Of course, we have to make sure that we don’t see another surge of the virus. The best way to do that is for everyone to get vaccinated.”

To that end, he announced a pop-up mass vaccination event to be held at the complex May 14 and 15. Anyone who receives the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the event also will receive 100 free clay targets to use at the complex.

The local GOP legislators joined Pritzker in encouraging constituents in the area, where the percentage of people who’ve been fully vaccinated lags the statewide rate, to get their shots.

“If you want to get rid of the mask, get a vaccine, OK?” Friess said. “Everybody that I’ve talked to wants to, quote, ‘get back to normal;’ the way that we’re going to do that is get vaccinated.”

Friess added that it’s a “personal decision” but told people to “do your research, do your homework.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the date the mayor said she wants Chicago to be fully reopened. It is July 4.

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