Chicago’s flag, civic pride and the fight against COVID-19

The mayor has suggested a fifth star for the Chicago flag. Let’s not . . .

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Lydia Ross, director of public art for the city of Chicago, wears a Chicago flag mask on April 30.

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If Chicago were to add a fifth star to the city’s flag, an awful lot of hipsters would have to get their tattoos reworked.

Maybe it’s best we just leave the flag as it is, even if the city manages to prevail against COVID-19.

Last Friday and again on Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot floated the idea of adding a fifth red star to Chicago’s flag to mark the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She was trying to rally the city. If Chicago’s effort to beat the virus is terrifically successful, she said Friday, it will “truly warrant a fifth star on our flag.”

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But let’s be blunt. Chicago’s not about to be terrifically successful anytime soon. Nobody is. This is a global public health war that’s sure to be fought for years, and a lot of people are setting us up to lose.

County boards are fighting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders because, you know, who needs science? Churches are reopening because, golly, the Lord never wore a face mask. People are moving around town again, as shown by phone company data, because their pleasures matter more than your safety.

We would call such people “shortsighted,” but we’re not medical experts. A more clinically precise word, used by Dr. Robert Murphy, a Northwestern University infectious disease expert, might be “idiots.”

And so the virus rages on. The death toll is going up in Illinois, not down, and it’s not some liberal hoax. Grandpa’s going to die whether he watches Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow.

It’s no fun being a scold, but sometimes grownups have to scold, so we’ll say it again: The only way to beat this virus in a way that puts human life first is to stay the course. Stay home. Respect social distancing. Wear a mask.

We either stay the course now, buying time for the development of a vaccine and more effective medical treatments, or we pay a heavier price — even more death and economic devastation — down the road.

But as for messing with the Chicago flag, let’s not. There’s a reason it’s among the most popular city flags in the country, found on countless coffee mugs, dog collars and sunburned shoulders. It’s a perfect thing, simple and bold.

The popularity of Chicago’s flag also reflects a great deal of civic pride. When we flaunt the flag, we’re saying we’re in this together — exactly the sentiment we need right now.

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