Lightfoot issues stay-home ‘advisory,’ puts 10-person limit on social gatherings

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, the mayor implored Chicagoans to buy small turkeys and fight the urge to open their homes to extended family. Otherwise, we’re “on track to lose 1,000 more Chicagoans” — or more — by Dec. 31.

SHARE Lightfoot issues stay-home ‘advisory,’ puts 10-person limit on social gatherings
A nearly-empty Eisenhower Expressway on a Monday afternoon in April.

The Eisenhower Expressway was nearly empty on a Monday afternoon in April during a mandatory stay-home order. Now with coronavirus surging again, Chicago Mayo Lori Lightfoot has issued a stay-home “advisory,” meaning Chicagoans are urged not to go, but won’t face penalties if they do.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Warning that up to 1,800 more Chicagoans could die by year’s end, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday issued a 30-day stay-at-home “advisory” and slapped a mandatory, 10-person lid on social gatherings to control a second surge of coronavirus cases that’s worse than the first.

Two weeks to the day before Thanksgiving, Lightfoot implored Chicagoans to shake off “COVID fatigue,” avoid unnecessary travel, order small turkeys and resist the temptation to open their homes to extended family.

“While this is tough — this whole year has been tough — you must cancel the normal Thanksgiving plans,” Lightfoot said Thursday.

“If we continue on the path we’re on and you, me and others don’t step up and do more ... we could see at least a thousand more Chicagoans die” by the end of this year, she added.

Both measures take effect at 6 a.m. Monday.

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Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she is “more worried about COVID right now than I have been at any point since March” when the pandemic began.

Chicago’s positivity rate of 14.1% is up from 10.9% a week ago. The average daily case load stands at 1,920 — 36% higher than a week ago and the highest rate since the onset of the pandemic. By Thanksgiving, it could be up to 4,000 cases a day.

“We are projected — if we do not see major improvements here — to have at least a thousand more COVID deaths in the next 49 days [among] Chicago residents. ... Some of these models are projecting as much as 1,800 deaths,” Arwady said.

“If we magically stopped our outbreak growth today, we would still have another 400 COVID deaths in Chicago in the next 49 days. It is in our power to save literally 600 lives at minimum between now and the end of the year.”

During the stay-home advisory, Chicagoans are urged to go out only for work, school, medical appointments, groceries, take-out food and pharmaceuticals.

Non-essential, out-of-state travel is a no-no. So are at-home gatherings with anybody outside your immediate household — except for “essential staff,” which includes home health care workers or educators.

The 10-person limit on meetings and social events impacts everything from weddings, birthday parties and business dinners to social events and funerals. It applies to “any venue” where a gathering or social event takes place, “including meeting rooms.”

Fitness clubs, retail stores, hairdressers, barber shops and movie theaters with their own capacity mandates are not impacted by the 10-person limit. Generally, the capacity ceiling at those locations is 40% or 50 people, whichever is fewer.

City Hall is also launching a community outreach effort in coronavirus hot spots on the Northwest and Southwest sides. Under the plan, more than 2,000 city employees, including 550 contact tracers, will join with hundreds of community-based organizations to reach vulnerable Chicagoans.

The biggest hot spot is ZIP code 60629, which includes Ashburn, Chicago Lawn, Clearing, Gage Park, Garfield Ridge, West Elsdon and West Lawn.

In those Southwest Side neighborhoods, there have been 8,230 coronavirus cases and 912 over the last week. The positivity rate is 26.3%. In a combined population of 111,850, and one in every 14 has tested positive, and one in every 874 residents has died.

The stay-home portion of the mayor’s game plan is only an advisory. The 10-person limit is mandatory. It remains to be seen how the city plans to enforce either, though Lightfoot promised enforcement would be “vigorous.”

By Health Department order, “indoor gatherings within private residences” must be “limited to six non-household members.” The department “has the authority to fine individuals for breaking this requirement and hosting large social gatherings in their private residences,” officials said.

Lightfoot was asked how she plans to enforce the order in a city where some people refuse to wear face masks.

“Well, look. This is a progressive step. I hope we don’t have to go any further than this. If the possibility of a thousand more people dying in this city in the next seven weeks doesn’t grab you by the throat, as it did me when I started to see that modeling, then there’s little that we’re gonna do to move you,” the mayor said.

“This is literally a matter of life and death. If we see you violating these rules in any way, we’re not gonna hesitate to take action. Not through warnings. The time for that is over. We’re gonna fine and, if necessary, shut businesses down,” she said.

Already, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s decision to close restaurants and bars to indoor patrons for a second time has prompted partygoers to gather in hotel rooms and vacation rentals.

Lightfoot understands hotels have been hit hard, but said hotels’ survival “cannot include parties. It simply can’t.” She urged hotels to be “much more diligent about who is coming in.”

Throughout the pandemic, Lightfoot has not hesitated to play the political heavy whenever she sensed trouble.

She shut down the lakefront, the downtown Riverwalk and the 606 Trail — and kept them closed for months — when Chicagoans could not be trusted to avoid gathering in large groups. She drove around the city breaking up large gatherings, cut off citywide liquor sales at 9 p.m. and issued a “travel advisory” that urged people returning from states where the virus was surging to quarantine for 14 days.

When the mayor felt it was time to reopen, she did it slowly — by, as she put it, “turning a dimmer switch.”

Late last month, Lightfoot tried and failed to stem the tide of rising COVID-19 cases by re-imposing restrictions on bars, restaurants and nonessential businesses.

Bars were restricted to outdoor seating only — no drinking indoors.

Restaurants were ordered to close at 10 p.m. and cut off liquor sales at 9 p.m., including cocktails to go. No liquor sales after 9 p.m. at packaged goods stores, either.

Other non-essential businesses were ordered to close their doors between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

When Pritzker subsequently ordered bars and restaurants to stop serving indoor patrons, Lightfoot tried to talk him out of it, then reluctantly went along with the restrictions.

To help Chicago restaurants fighting for survival, she vowed to dole out $10 million grants and impose a temporary cap on restaurant delivery fees.

Earlier this week, Lightfoot told reporters she was “very concerned about the trajectory” of coronavirus cases in Chicago, but not enough to order another stay-at-home shutdown of the city’s pandemic-ravaged economy.

Instead, she talked about launching a “surgical” strike of increased mitigations targeted to specific neighborhoods where the coronavirus is raging out of control.

On Thursday, the mayor also vowed to deploy “trusted neighbors” to knock on doors in neighborhoods where people are “skeptical of the government and skeptical of health care workers.”

“This hyper-local focus — grass roots, door-to-door — will be indispensable,” she said. “We have to build trust.”

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