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Next phase of reopening Chicago will go slowly, keep lakefront closed, Lightfoot says

During a virtual speech to the Economic Club of Chicago, the mayor said, “Unfortunately at this point, we will not be ready to reopen our lakefront” because a “resurgence in cases is more than a risk.”

Chicago police barricades block access to the Lakefront Trail at Fullerton Avenue as the area remains closed to pedestrians amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chicago police barricades block access to the Lakefront Trail at Fullerton Avenue as the area remains closed to pedestrians amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday likened reopening Chicago to “slowly turning on a dimmer — not flipping a light switch” — and said the leap to the city’s Phase 3 plan will not allow her to reopen the lakefront.

Last week, Lightfoot said people have been sending her “really interesting suggestions” about ways to reopen the lakefront — by doing it in phases and having “segmented hours for particular activities.”

The mayor said she would consider those ideas whenever the city meets the rigid standards she has established to graduate to the so-called “Cautiously Reopen” Phase 3 of her five-step plan to slowly reopen the city.

But during a virtual speech to the Economic Club of Chicago, Lightfoot delivered a heavy dose of bad news to Chicagoans with spring and cabin fever: “Unfortunately at this point, we will not be ready to reopen our lakefront” because a “resurgence in cases is more than a risk. It is a very real possibility we need to be prepared for.”

“Reopening will be like slowly turning on a dimmer — not flipping a light switch. We’re talking six-to-twelve months where we’ll be managing to prevent the resurgent outbreaks we’ve seen among vulnerable populations in Singapore, night clubs in South Korea or what we’re seeing at this very moment in Georgia that has followed their own rush to reopen,” the mayor said.

“Whether or not we see that kind of resurgence in Chicago — which will force us to go back to sheltering in place — is entirely dependent on us and the actions we take. …Psychologically, if we don’t do this in a smart, diligent, data-driven way — if we don’t do it in a way that continues to engage important stakeholders in a dialogue — we’re gonna have to take steps back. And I think that’s gonna be devastating for all of us.”

Before moving on, Chicago would need to boost its testing capacity by 50% — to 4,500 tests-a-day. The “positivity rate” is also critical. The city’s goal to graduate is 30% positive in congregate settings — like nursing homes, homeless shelters and Cook County Jail — and 15% as a rolling average over 14 days for community settings.

Ten working groups are now developing mandates for different industries — including capacity restrictions, protective equipment, hygiene, testing and the “sequencing” of reopening.

But Lightfoot outlined the three categories of businesses that would be allowed to slowly reopen in Phase 3.

• Industries essential to providing basic needs and fighting the virus, like grocery stores, emergency healthcare services, public transportation and social services.

• Industries with “built-in social distancing where protective gear” is already standard fare. That means “phasing in non-emergency, but important medical procedures” to allow hospitals to work through a backlog of cases and resuming construction and manufacturing “with appropriate public health protocols.”

• Industries providing, what Lightfoot called “critical supports” for those who cannot work from home. That will require reopening parks and libraries that provide youth programming “with strict health protocols in place.”

And what exactly will the new normal look like in these industries?

“No small break rooms, barriers between desks, hand sanitizer stations and displaying visual guidance on rules,” the mayor said.

“This will entail wearing face coverings at all times, potential health screenings at the office entrance as well as possible alternate in-office days for employees.”

When retail stores open, Lightfoot said shoppers are likely to experience what they’ve grown accustomed to at the grocery store during the pandemic: more space at checkout, more protective barriers, contact-less payment and dedicated hours for at-risk populations.

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia has urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker to relax his five-step plan to allow restaurants to open at 25% capacity on June 1 with strict safeguard for restaurant employees, like face masks and mandatory temperature checks.

Lightfoot made no promises. But she said she is determined to “bring back” businesses that are “part of our daily lives and make us feel human, including retail, recreation, restaurants and personal service like salons.”

“While these industries are higher risk, we believe we can find creative ways in which we can bring some of this activity back in safely sooner rather than later,” she said, noting that those industries have been “some of the hardest hit.”

Lightfoot acknowledged that unemployment has skyrocketed, small businesses are “on the brink of mass closure” and the pandemic has exposed Chicago’s historic “vulnerabilities”: poverty, disinvestment and unequal access to jobs and healthcare.

But she argued that the public health crisis of a lifetime “gives us an opportunity to remake our city for decades to come.”

“What I’m talking about is the opportunity for a once-in-a-generation re-imagination of Chicago,” she told the city’s movers-and-shakers.

“I want us to recover faster than any city in America. … I want all of us here to stand together and create a new economic model based on inclusive growth that drives our downtown and rebuilds our neighborhoods from the ground up.”