Lightfoot: No regrets on Lollapalooza or concerns it will become super-spreader event

The mayor says her confidence in screening protocols at the music festival are bolstered by the fact that Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner, “went incognito,” without valid proof of vaccination, and was denied entry.

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Attendees present their proof of vaccination cards at the entrance to Lollapalooza on Thursday.

Lollapalooza attendees present their proof of vaccination cards at the entrance on Thursday, opening day of the music festival.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday she doesn’t fear a surge of coronavirus cases tied to Lollapalooza, in part because her public health commissioner “went incognito” to the music festival without valid proof of vaccination and was turned away.

During a live interview on WVON-AM (1690), Lightfoot said she is “well aware” of a video appearing to show young people being “waved through” the Lollapalooza gates by people who were supposed to be checking vaccination cards, but “weren’t even looking at” those credentials.

But the mayor offered a possible explanation. Once attendees were screened and showed credentials proving they’d been vaccinated, they were issued a wristband. So the video could have been people with wristbands being waved through, Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot said her confidence about the safety of Lollapalooza stems from the city’s vigilance in holding event organizers to their promised protocols and testing that system to make certain they did.

Attendees were required to either show their own vaccination card — and a valid ID proving they were the person whose name is on the card — or proof that they had tested negative for the coronavirus no more than 72 hours before the concert.

“We checked with them every single day, multiple times a day. We had our people at the screening checkpoints. And I will tell you Dr. [Allison] Arwady, the public health commissioner, kind of went a little bit incognito, didn’t have all her paperwork right and they wouldn’t let her in,” the mayor told WVON talk show host Perry Small.

“Every single day, they turned hundreds of people away — either who didn’t have the right paperwork or had an expired test that wasn’t [taken] within 72 hours. That tells me there is a rigor around the protocols that they were using to screen people.”

Fans of Modest Mouse listen to the band on Day 4 of Lollapalooza.

Fans of Modest Mouse listen to the band on day four of Lollapalooza in Grant Park on Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker talked about going to Lolla with his wife and friends, but canceled at the last minute, citing the highly-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Lightfoot, on the other hand, appeared onstage the first night, thanking attendees for “vaxxing up and masking up.” The mayor said she “went there myself to eyeball the screening” and make certain the city had public health officials at every checkpoint “to make sure they weren’t just letting people through and going through the motions.”

“Can I tell you that the system worked perfectly? No, I can’t. But every single day, we had people there looking at it, asking questions and making sure that the screening was real and meaningful. They were telling us 90% plus every day” had shown proof of vaccination, Lightfoot said. 

University of Chicago epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon had argued that during a surge in cases tied to the Delta variant it was a “bad idea” for Lightfoot to allow hundreds of thousands of young people to jam together in front of multiple stages in Grant Park.

But Tuesday, Lightfoot said she has “no regrets” about green-lighting the festival, a major money-maker for Chicago that filled hotels and restaurants.

Two days after it ended, the mayor remains confident Chicago’s premier music festival — the largest of its kind in the world this year — will not turn out to be a “super-spreader” event. She argued just the opposite.

“We worked with the Lollapalooza people ahead of time to incentivize people to get vaccinated,” Lightfoot said.

“So I’m confident that thousands of people — mostly young people, which is our toughest demographic — got vaccinated simply because they wanted to go to Lollapalooza.”

Lightfoot said the decision to she made last spring to green-light Lollapalooza was “based upon on data and modeling that showed a modest uptick” in the Delta variant.

“The Delta variant has been with us for quite a long time. This is not news. The media is now latching upon it, mostly because it’s attacking people who are unvaccinated. And what we’re also seeing is, people who have been on the fence or saying, ‘No. Not me,’ actually coming off the fence and saying, ‘This Delta variant scares me. I’m getting vaccinated,’” the mayor said.

Lightfoot said she doesn’t want to “force people to get a vaccine” or use “scare tactics.”

But, she added: “The data is real and the data is scary. ... 97% of the people that are dying in Chicago are people that are unvaccinated. If that doesn’t give you an incentive to educate yourself and get off the wall and get vaccinated, I don’t know what else can.”

Not following New York on vaccination requirements yet

New York City is phasing in a requirement that residents show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations before entering a bar, restaurant or gym.

Lightfoot is hesitant to go there. She noted some Chicago restaurants and bars already deny entry to customers without proof of vaccination.

“That’s only going to spread,” she said, in part because customers are saying, “If you’re not vaccinated, I don’t want to be near you.”

But Chicago is nowhere near another shutdown.

“We’re seeing a modest uptick in [intensive care patients] and hospitalizations, but not to the point where we’re worried about our health care system buckling,” she said.

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