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Days away from Lollapalooza, Lightfoot says she won’t hesitate to impose mask mandate, other safety measures

“I hope we don’t get there. What we’re going to keep focusing on is pushing the vaccine,” the mayor told Kara Swisher on the New York Times’ “Sway” podcast. “But my number one priority is to keep people safe.”

A packed Grant Park on Aug. 1, 2019, on the first day of Lollapalooza.
A packed Grant Park in August 2019, on the first day of Lollapalooza.
Sun-Times file

With Lollapalooza just days away, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is saying she won’t hesitate to return to a mask mandate if Chicago’s daily rate of coronavirus cases is “consistently going over” 200.

“If we get back into an area where we feel like we’re in a red zone, which we are working very hard to make sure that our daily case rate is below 200, if we start to see consistently going over that, we’re not only going to look at a mask mandate, but we’re going to look back at other tools that we’ve been compelled to use,” the mayor told Kara Swisher on the New York Times’ “Sway” podcast, posted online Monday.

Later Monday, Lightfoot told reporters she would consult with organized labor before reinstating safety mitigations. She advised both vaccinated and unvaccinated Chicagoans to wear masks indoors.

“Everybody’s got to make their decisions about what makes the most sense for them. But if we see a surge anything like we’ve seen in the past couple of cycles, then everything is on the table,” she said

“Right now, I feel confident with the measures that are in place. But everything is subject to change, based upon the data and the science.”

The current daily case rate in Chicago is 130. That’s up 76% from 74 cases a day just a week ago.

Throughout the pandemic, Lightfoot has alternated between implementing mitigations that are even tougher than Gov. J.B. Pritzker and criticizing the governor for going too far at times, particularly in terms of closing schools and banning indoor dining at restaurants.

More recently, Lightfoot has sounded the alarm about the Delta variant and the rise in cases among the large number of unvaccinated Chicagoans, while also saying she has no regrets about green-lighting Lollapalooza’s return to Grant Park this weekend with hundreds of thousands of young people jammed together, in front of multiple stages, dancing, singing and swaying to the music.

To be allowed to enter Grant Park, attendees must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test no older than 72 hours. That’s a lower standard than the original plan to require a negative test no older than 24 hours.

At an unrelated news conference Monday afternoon, the mayor said she has no second thoughts about green-lighting the city’s marquee music festival.

That’s because the event is outdoors and because, as the mayor put it, Lollapalooza organizers have done “a tremendous job of educating” their “core” patrons about the need to get vaccinated.

“If I thought for a moment that shutting down Lolla would prevent further spread in the way that we’re seeing it, then I wouldn’t hesitate to do that. But it’s outdoors. We’ve been having large-scale events all over the city since June without major problems or issues,” she said.

“The Lolla team has been phenomenal. They’ve hired their own public health experts who’ve been working hand-in-glove with us since we started these discussions back early in the spring. ... So, God bless the critics standing on the sidelines. But I feel confident that the Lolla folks have a good solid plan in place. And we’re gonna obviously hold them accountable to make sure that plan is enforced.”

Lightfoot’s “critics standing on the sidelines” include University of Chicago epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon, who has said it’s a “bad idea” to hold the jam-packed event, which she said is “all about the money.”

“God bless Dr. Landon, I don’t agree with her. She’s said a lot of things over the course of this last 16 months which I don’t agree with. Who I have confidence in is Dr. Allison Arwady, our director of public health, who has been working with the folks at Lolla for some time now — and particularly over the last few weeks — to understand what their plan is ... and that we’re all on the same page about what’s needed,” the mayor said.

During the podcast interview, Lightfoot told Swisher the Delta variant has her incredibly concerned. So does the fact that vaccine “uptake” in some South Side neighborhoods was “in the high-teens” not too long ago, she said, and is still under 40%.

“When I see statistics like 97% of the people that are getting sick or 97% of the people that are dying are folks who are unvaccinated, that is alarming. The southern part of our state is starting to really catch fire with new COVID infections. I’m worried about a surge there. So I’m concerned. We’re sounding the alarm. And we’re going to be looking closely at how the data progresses,” Lightfoot said.

Swisher noted Los Angeles County already has restored an indoor mask mandate. That county’s vaccination rate is “similar to” Chicago’s, she added, with about 70% of eligible adults having received at least one dose. The mayor was asked if she’s considering reinstating a mask mandate.

“We’re not there yet, but I am very concerned about what we’re seeing in the uptick in our cases,” Lightfoot said. “We’re still in a good place as we are speaking. But we’re seeing an uptick in daily cases. We’re starting to see a slight uptick in hospitalizations. You know, the deaths are kind of a trailing indicator. That’s steady for now.”