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Lightfoot vows to purchase a million masks and distribute them to needy Chicagoans

Given the state mandate to wear masks in closed public places, Chicagoans probably will be “living with masks” until there’s a vaccine. “I don’t believe in issuing mandates and not giving people the tools” to comply, the mayor said.

A man and woman in the Loop wear face masks Thursday amid growing fear about the coronavirus.
These people were wearing face masks in the Loop in March, even before the stay-at-home order. Now, Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to make sure everyone has one.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicagoans will be “living with masks for the duration” — maybe even until there’s a coronavirus vaccine, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday, promising to purchase a million facemasks and distribute them to aldermen and their constituents.

“I don’t believe in issuing mandates and not giving people the tools to be compliant. So as a city, we will be stepping up and making sure that our residents have the kind of face-coverings that they need to be able to protect themselves when they go outside of their home and can’t safely social distance — for example, at grocery stores,” the mayor said.

Starting Friday, Illinois residents will be required to wear a face covering or a mask whenever they are in public places where they cannot maintain a six-foot social distance. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s revised stay-at-home order requires face coverings in stores and other indoor public places. It applies to “all individuals over the age of two who are able to medically tolerate” a face-covering or mask.

The revised order applies through the month of May. But Lightfoot said she expects the mask mandate to continue for months after that.

“We’re gonna be living with masks for the duration. I see that happening certainly over the course of the summer and fall and maybe even until next year before we see a vaccine go on line,” she said.

Asked about specific plans to get masks to low-income Chicagoans, the mayor said she had been “doing that all along.” But, Lightfoot said she has “heightened those efforts” through so-called “racial equity rapid response teams” dispatched to African-American neighborhoods that have borne the brunt of the coronavirus.

“We are in the process of placing an order for a million face coverings for residents. Obviously, we’re gonna put a premium on residents in need. We’re gonna be passing out [masks] to the 50 aldermen. In the interim, we’ve put masks in their hands,” she said.

Earlier this week, dozens of aldermen lined up outside the Thompson Center for medical masks distributed by millionaire businessman Willie Wilson. A candidate for the U.S. Senate, Wilson has access to masks through his medical supply business.

Wilson has also tried to sell masks to the city and state at cost. But Lightfoot has accused the former mayoral challenger who endorsed her over County Board President Toni Preckwinkle of demanding to be paid cash up front. Wilson denied that.

The mad scramble to distribute masks to Chicagoans has also spurred a handful of City Council members, led by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), one of Lightfoot’s most outspoken critics, to propose using their treasured aldermanic menu money for masks.

Also on Thursday:

• Lightfoot said she has no plans to follow New York City’s lead by closing the CTA for a deep cleaning. She argued once again that the CTA is a lifeline for essential workers, who have no other way to get to their jobs.

• With city revenues continuing to plummet, the mayor was asked again about the possibility of furloughs or layoffs in city government.

She reiterated that city state and federal governments should be “acting as a catalyst to spur economic growth.”

She called layoffs and furloughs “demoralizing” and a “last, last, last resort. ... Well, last is raising property taxes.”

• Lightfoot gave a rare shout-out to former Mayor Rahm Emanuel for fiercely defending Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city, despite President Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to strip sanctuary cities of federal crime-fighting funds. It happened on the day when a federal appeals court affirmed earlier rulings in Chicago’s favor in that marathon court fight.

“When I got the news from our corporation counsel earlier this morning, I let out a cheer,” Lightfoot said.

“And I have to give credit to former Mayor Rahm Emanuel for really understanding the importance of fighting this fight. ... We could not be dictated to simply because we embraced who we are as a city. We embraced our immigrants and refugees.”