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A man ignores a “trail closed” sign on the Lakefront Trail near Oak Street Beach as the city closes the area to pedestrians amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic.
A man ignores a “trail closed” sign on the Lakefront Trail near Oak Street Beach as the city closes the area to pedestrians amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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Stay home. Save lives. It’s as simple as that, Chicago

Stubborn residents who willfully ignored orders and congregated on the lakefront forced Mayor Lightfoot’s hand, and now we’re all paying the price. So be it.

We have no choice but to throw our support behind Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to shut down the Lakefront Trail and other public spaces to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Lightfoot had to do it, without a doubt. The virus is spreading rapidly here in Chicago and the rest of Illinois. Lives are at stake, plain and simple.

So, too, is the fate of our health care system and hospitals, already coping with dozens of COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

Just how dire are things?

On Thursday, state officials reported 673 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 2,538, and seven more deaths, bringing the total to 26.

The virus also is exacting its toll on the nation. More than 1,000 people in the U.S. have died, and nearly 70,000 cases have been confirmed. Meanwhile, a record-shattering 3.3 million now-jobless Americans filed for unemployment last week due to the pandemic, the federal government reported. The most claims ever filed in a week until now: 695,000.

Worldwide, more than 500,000 cases of coronavirus have now been confirmed. Close to 22,000 people have died.

These are grim statistics, no doubt. And they threaten to become even more grim, health experts warn.

As Lightfoot warned us in announcing the public-space shutdowns here, hospitals could be slammed in the coming weeks with more than 40,000 people sickened by the virus, if the city does not take drastic steps to protect public health.

Lightfoot, flanked by those infuriating photos of Chicagoans crowding a North Side lakefront on a warm day despite the statewide stay-at-home order, spoke bluntly about shutting down the Lakefront Trail, beaches, adjacent parks, playgrounds, the 606 Trail and the downtown Riverwalk.

Chicagoans enjoying warm weather on March 25 with a stroll along the Lakefront Trail near North Avenue Beach. Mayor Lori Lightfoot shut down the lakefront on March 26.
Chicagoans crowd the lakefront on Thursday near North Avenue beach.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“You cannot congregate anywhere in the city of Chicago,” Lightfoot said. “You must stay at home. Period.”

Chicago police will enforce the directive. Anyone who violates the order could be arrested, and rightly so. They will have brought it on themselves.

As much as we acknowledge that Lightfoot made the right call, we really hate that it came to this. To echo Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown, we were hoping that City Hall could find some other way to deal with stubborn Chicagoans who ignored public health directives to maintain that 6-foot-long “social distance” from each other — and avoid congregating in public.

As Brown pointed out, getting out on the lakefront and enjoying our parks is one of our best options for managing the stress of this outbreak. We all know that.

But that doesn’t mean walking or running amid a crowd of strangers, or playing pickup soccer or basketball as though the coronavirus is nothing more than a myth.

Not to point fingers, but those crowds on North Avenue Beach and the 606 Trail ruined it for Chicagoans elsewhere — like, say, Jackson Park — who were diligent about following the rule to maintain six feet or more of distance from other individuals.

In a best case scenario, this shutdown will be brief. But who knows?

If City Hall and the Chicago Department of Public Health decide to give us a break and reopen these public spaces soon, violators should still be ticketed and fined.

This much is clear: Stopping the spread of this disease must be our top priority.

If that means giving up our lakefront and parks until the experts tell us it is safe to reopen them, then we all must pull together and accept the inevitable.

In the mayor’s words, “Stay home, and save lives.”

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