Pop-up hotel parties? Now’s no time to look for loopholes in Chicago’s pandemic restrictions

COVID-19 is surging again. Hotels and airbnbs have to do a better job of cracking down on potential super-spreader events.

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A virtually deserted downtown Chicago in April, near the start of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order. With bars and restaurants again closed to indoor service, and hotels offering cheap rooms to bring in desperately needed revenue, Ald. Brendan Reilly said many people are moving their parties from restaurants into those hotels, creating what he called “spreader events.”

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The coronavirus is spreading twice as fast in Illinois as it was three weeks ago, and almost four times as fast as it was at the beginning of October.

More than 536,500 people in Illinois have tested positive, and the state’s pandemic death toll is closing in on 10,500.

Yet there are people holding stupid pop-up parties. They are taking advantage of low rates at Chicago hotels and Airbnbs to hold gatherings that risk becoming COVID-19 super-spreader events.

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The parties have been growing in number since the city first imposed social distancing restrictions back in March, with more than a dozen reported to police. While most of the events have been relatively small, attended by just 10 to 20 people, some have drawn crowds of up to 80 people.

“In large part, the vast majority of these operators are doing everything they’re being asked to,” Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), speaking of Chicago’s hotels and Airbnbs, told the Sun-Times. “But it seems like a handful of properties aren’t taking any accountability for what’s happening inside their four walls.”

Reilly said a lot of people who used to throw parties in bars and restaurants — partially shut down because of the pandemic — now are throwing them at hotels and Airbnbs.

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Is this a huge problem? Not yet. But it’s a growing one, as people bridle to the city’s pandemic-fighting restrictions on having a good, crowded time.

There is an obvious need for hotels and short-term rental properties to voluntarily upgrade and better enforce protocols to limit the number of guests staying in a room.

“We don’t want to find out that we have incentivized a problem after the fact,” Reilly said. “At a bare minimum, we need to set some basic minimum expectations for how hotels secure their lobbies and their rooms.”

Big gathering are not a thing of the past. A vaccine is on its way and a sense of normalcy will return one day. We’re all looking forward to a good party again.

But Chicago is in the throes of a deadly public health crisis, one that is growing worse. Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned on Thursday that the city is “on track to lose 1,000 more Chicagoans” — or even more — from COVID-19 by New Year’s Eve.

This is no time for anybody to be looking for loopholes in the city’s coronavirus regulations.

Let’s keep each other alive and well.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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