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Chicago ‘on the precipice’ of a rollback if young people don’t get the message: Lightfoot

“Some of you have joked that I’m like the mom who will turn the car around when you’re acting up. No, friends. It’s actually worse. I won’t just turn the car around. I’m gonna shut it off. I’m gonna kick you out. And I’m gonna make you walk home,” the mayor said.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a City Hall press conference in July with Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared at a City Hall press conference Wednesday morning with Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. They warned of an increase in people ages 18-29 testing positive for the coronavirus.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday returned to the role of the heavy she has played throughout the coronavirus pandemic — warning of a rollback unless young people who account for 30% of new COVID cases in the city get the message.

“Some of you have joked that I’m like the mom who will turn the car around when you’re acting up. No, friends. It’s actually worse. I won’t just turn the car around. I’m gonna shut it off. I’m gonna kick you out. And I’m gonna make you walk home. That’s who I am. That’s who I must be for you and everyone else in this city to make sure that we continue to be safe,” Lightfoot said.

“I don’t want to be that person if I don’t have to. But I will if you make me. And right now, we are on the precipice. We are dangerously close to going back to a dangerous state of conditions.”

Throughout the pandemic, Lightfoot has not hesitated to do whatever she believes is necessary to keep the city safe. Her arms-folded, stern-faced image inspired a hysterical stream of memes she cleverly embraced.

Lightfoot famously shut down the lakefront in late March because Chicagoans couldn’t be trusted to maintain social distance. She reopened it last month, but only for activities including walking, running and biking and with the admonition for those on the trail to “keep it moving.” Chicago’s beaches and Park District swimming pools remain closed.

She also cut off citywide liquor sales at 9 p.m. to prevent people from gathering outside those stores.

The daily average of coronavirus cases now stands at 192. If it rises above 200 — into the “moderate-high incidence” category — the mayor warned that it could trigger a retreat.

She urged young people and the bars, restaurants and gyms that serve them to prevent that from happening.

Stop gathering in large groups. Stop going out and around other people without mask. Stop believing they are invincible and immune from the coronavirus and realize they can not only get serious symptoms themselves. They can be asymptomatic carriers and spread the virus without even knowing it.

“If we continue to see this uptick in cases, we’re gonna have no choice but to go back into Phase 3. That means shutting businesses down. That means imposing more restrictions on your mobility. No one wants to go back there. But we will have to go back there if people continue to ignore the public health guidance,” the mayor said.

“This is our moment of reckoning. This is our moment of whether we are gonna do the right thing. It is gonna determine whether businesses continue to stay open . . . Whether or not we continue to have some semblance of a normal life. I hope the answer is ‘Yes.’”

Lightfoot said she is preparing a marketing campaign aimed at the 18-to-29-year-old group as well as the 30-to-40 group that’s had the second-most new cases.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady speaks during a news conference at City Hall last July.
An uptick in the daily count of new COVID cases in Chicago is cause for concern, city health commissioner Allison Arwady said Wednesday. If it climbs over 200, that’s cause for concern. And If the average rises above 400 cases per day, alarm bells would go off, the commissioner said.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

In the meantime, Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady used an avalanche of charts and statistics to drive home the message.

Since June 15, 29% of new coronavirus cases have been among young people, with a surge in “virtually every zip code” and racial group. The highest number of recorded cases has been in Lincoln Park, the commissioner said.

If the daily average rises above 200 a day, which Arwady expects to happen, the city would return to a “cautionary state.”

“It does not equal an automatic rollback. What we do when we are over 200 new cases is look at . . . our local data and say, `What is driving that increase?’ If we see, for example, a lot of cases that are associated with bars, bars would be one of the earlier things we might think about needing to roll back,” she said.

If the average rises above 400 cases per day, alarm bells would go off, the commissioner said.

“That’s the equivalent of where the states are that we are requiring quarantine for our visitors. It’s the equivalent of needing to go back to a Phase 3 — really pulling back on major activities,” she said.

“We’re quite close to 200. We’ll start thinking about pulling back, if we need to, once we’re over 200.”

Arwady warned young people are “not immune” from the virus. Hospitalizations and deaths have occurred in the 18 to 29 age group. They can also spread the virus, even if they are asymptomatic. They need to be “extra careful” with vulnerable people in their lives.

“We want you to help us, as the mayor said, drive that [daily case] number down,” she said. “It’s how we move ahead in Chicago and not backwards.”