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Lightfoot offers a sneak preview of her detailed plan to reopen Chicago

From reopening the lakefront, the Riverwalk and the 606 Trail to new guidelines for the CTA and Chicago churches, the mayor has a lot to think about in crafting safety mandates for specific areas and industries.

Chicago skyline as seen from Soldier Field.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday tried to address several questions that stir-crazy Chicagoans want answered.
Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is preparing to flesh out her plan to slowly but safely reopen Chicago, with guidelines for specific areas and industries.

Thursday, she offered a preview.

After disappointing Chicago restaurant owners by saying outdoor dining will not be authorized on May 29, Lightfoot fielded some other questions stir-crazy Chicagoans want answered.

Like when and how she will loosen her grip by reopening the lakefront, the downtown Riverwalk and the 606 Trail.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t get a call, a text, an email or all of the above asking about the lakefront. I understand that. The lakefront is a treasure. But we have to do this at a time that is safe and in a way that we can remain safe,” the mayor said after a news conference called to announce additional mental health services during the pandemic.

“I’m very worried about a spike and a surge in cases when we do open back up. We’re gonna work to try to mitigate against that. But having thousands of people congregating on the lakefront is one of the surest ways that I know that we would have the kind of surge that would set us back and then have us have to re-impose additional restrictions on mobility.”

Lakefront aldermen have suggested ways to control the number of people on the lakefront, including time-of-day restrictions for different recreational activities; a free, ticketed “timed-entry” system; and reserved picnicking spots.

The Chicago Area Runners Association has proposed that the mayor begin by opening the lakefront trail from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. for running, walking and biking.

Lightfoot is considering all those and more. But, it’s not quite that simple.

“It’s not just the lakefront. It’s what do we do about the marinas and boating? What do we do about golf. We’ve got golf courses … along the lakefront on the North Side and the South Side. So there’s a lot of pieces that go into shutting down and then, reopening. We’re looking at all of them,” she said.

The mayor was asked how CTA service is likely to change when Chicagoans who’ve been staying home return to work.

She answered with a series of questions being asked behind the scenes.

“How do we clean? How do we make sure that we’ve got spacing and social distancing so we don’t have, kind of the traditional rush hour with people congregated on platforms and at bus stops? How many people will we allow on a bus at any given time?” the mayor said.

“We’ve got [passenger] limitations on the regular buses. I believe it’s 12 or 15. On the larger buses, it’s in the low-20’s. Are we gonna change those numbers in any way? I’m not sure that we will. Does that mean that we need to put more buses in service, particularly on some of these heavily traveled bus routes? Same thing with the trains.”

The mayor was also asked about her decision to fine a handful of churches that defied the stay-at-home order last Sunday and tow the cars of some of their patrons.

She said she’s working with religious leaders to “craft specific guidance” for a return to in-person services.

“How do members of the choir come together … and express themselves through song in a way that’s protected? I don’t know about you, but when I sing, I’m expressive. Droplets are coming out of my mouth. I may be sweating. Those are the very circumstances where the virus can breed and spread,” the mayor said.

“When we talk about passing the collection plate, how do we do that in a way that is safe? When we talk about taking communion — there are many faith traditions where people drink from the same chalice. How do we do that without putting ourselves at risk?”

With temperatures in the 80s expected over the long holiday weekend, Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady was asked about swimming in public and private pools.

“COVID-19 is not in the water itself. It’s not that it could spread through the pool or through the lake. The concern is the interaction of the swimmers,” Arwady said.

“A pool in somebody’s backyard that they’re using with their family, I don’t have a concern for that. The public pools are part of the larger conversation … about where are we as a city. What structural things need to be in place. Those would be a much bigger decision because it is difficult to keep that sort of physical distancing — especially where you think about kids playing in the pool.”