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City officials detail plans for New Year’s Eve fireworks display despite concerns about COVID-19, crime

A New Year’s Eve fireworks display will be visible along a 1.5-mile-long stretch of the lakefront and the Chicago River, which city officials said will allow people to space out amid concerns about a surge in coronavirus cases.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a press conference at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications in the Near West Side neighborhood, Wednesday morning, Dec. 29, 2021, where police, fire and public health officials detailed safety plans for New Year’s Eve. The city is hosting a 1.5-mile long fireworks display from Wolf Point on the Chicago River to the lakefront on New Year’s Eve despite a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a press conference at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications in the Near West Side neighborhood, Wednesday morning, Dec. 29, 2021, where police, fire and public health officials detailed safety plans for New Year’s Eve. The city is hosting a 1.5-mile long fireworks display from Wolf Point on the Chicago River to the lakefront on New Year’s Eve despite a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A massive fireworks display will light up the Chicago River on New Year’s Eve, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city officials warned that unsupervised children shouldn’t be among those in the crowds expected in downtown for the show.

“No child should be unsupervised or their whereabouts unknown when it comes to New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day — do not simply drop them off downtown and hope for the best,” Lightfoot said. “That’s simply not responsible.”

The display will start at midnight with fireworks launching from five bridges and two points along the Chicago River, said Rich Guidice, executive director of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. The public should be able to see the fireworks along the Chicago River from the Orleans Street bridge to east of Navy Pier, he said. WGN-TV will also broadcast the event. ABC 7 and NBC 5 will also air the fireworks.

The holiday display comes as the city faces another surge of coronavirus cases. Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said she would rather have people outdoors than indoors, where the risk for transmission remains higher.

The show will spread along a 1.5-mile-long stretch of the lakefront and the Chicago River, which could allow for people to space out to watch it outside, she said.

“I am in full support of continuing with this because it is outdoors, more spaced out,” Arwady said. “But if people are going to come down, the masking will help. It will probably be cold so people in Chicago tend to keep those masks on more outdoors, but there is not a requirement.”

Downtown street closures for the fireworks display will start at 4 p.m. Friday with the riverwalk closing to pedestrian traffic east of State Street, Guidice said. The riverwalk west of State Street will close depending on public safety needs, but the public won’t be able to watch the show from the Chicago Riverwalk.

Starting at 11 p.m., pedestrians and cars won’t be allowed on the bridges along the Chicago River on Franklin, LaSalle, Clark, Dearborn and State streets. The bridges will reopen about 10 minutes after the fireworks end.

The eastbound lanes of Wacker Drive from Lake Street to Stetson Avenue will be closed to traffic starting at 11 p.m., but pedestrians will be able to watch the fireworks from this location, according to city officials.

People can also watch the show from Navy Pier at no cost, said Nick Pullia, a spokesman. Masks aren’t required in outdoor spaces, but people do have to wear masks in the indoor facilities.

Navy Pier is also hosting an indoor “New Year on the Pier” party where masks are required, and attendees must show proof of vaccination or a negative test result, according to a news release. Guests, who will have to pay to enter, will also be able to take a COVID test before entering the party.

The Chicago Transit Authority will provide free rides on its trains and buses from 10 p.m. Friday to 4 a.m. Saturday.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said additional officers will patrol CTA stations for the holiday along with business corridors, adding that officers’ days off were canceled to prepare for the weekend.

Brown also urged parents to keep tabs on their children during the holiday and “not drop them off unsupervised anywhere” in the city.

“If there is any criminal activity, we will take the appropriate action, constitutionally, legally, respectfully, but we will take the appropriate action,” Brown said, adding officers will arrest people of any age who are suspected of participating in criminal activities.

Earlier this month, a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy were shot during a chaotic weekend that saw crowds of young people in the downtown area.

Lightfoot said she plans to watch the fireworks on WGN-TV from her home. Balancing concerns about health and crime, Lightfoot said community spread of COVID-19 remains one of the biggest challenges for the city. She encouraged people to get vaccinated, get a booster shot and to get tested for COVID-19 before gathering with anyone indoors.

Arwady said city officials are reaching out to the federal government to get additional resources for testing as people scramble to find a COVID-19 test. She encouraged people who are waiting for a test result to assume it’s positive and take the necessary precautions.

On the North Side, the Lincoln Park Zoo also planned to continue its “Zoo Year’s Eve” 21-and-over event that will largely take place outdoors, said Jillian Braun, a spokesperson for the Zoo. Masks will be required for the indoor portions of the event.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.