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Lakefront and park closures a necessary inconvenience

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to close lakefront and parks shows the coronavirus battle is ramping up.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot listens as Dr. Allison Arwady speaks to reporters about the decision to close the lakefront trail during a news conference in Chicago on Thursday, March 26, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times

I am glad Mayor Lightfoot put her foot down about the continued need for social distancing.

After all, a lot of people don’t believe fat meat is greasy.

They aren’t stupid people.

But like the folks who still smoke cigarettes despite the cancer warnings, they just don’t believe the coronavirus will kill them.

There are also those folks who think the rules don’t apply to them.

Because so many of us aren’t taking “social distancing” seriously, the lakefront was officially closed off to the public Thursday, with violators subject to arrest.

Orlando took similar action a week ago, shutting down nearby beaches after hundreds of snowbirds flocked to the waterfront on a particularly gorgeous day.

In my neighborhood, people are not only keeping back, they don’t even nod when you pass them on the street.

Meanwhile, the cyclists passing through are zipping down the bike path as if it were an ordinary day.

On Thursday, the mayor did not mince words about what’s at stake.

“The numbers indicate this will affect all of us. It has the potential to break the back of our health care system,” Lightfoot said during Thursday’s briefing, pointing out that we could see 40,000 hospitalizations due to the coronavirus.

“If you don’t act responsibly and stay at home like you have been ordered to do, we will be headed for a situation playing out catastrophically,” the mayor warned.

But enforcing the state’s stay-at-home order will be a big test for the Chicago Police Department, not only in areas where people are used to their daily jaunts on the lakefront, but in places where people regularly hang out on the corners.

Until now, we’ve all been on the honor system.

The problem is some of us aren’t so honorable.

For instance, it irks me to no end that despite posted signs warning dog owners to pick up after their pets or face a fine, there are always piles of dog poop that owners have left for someone else to pick up.

Has anyone even heard of someone being ticketed or fined for not picking up dog poop?

Interim Police Supt. Charlie Beck said violators of the lakefront and parks closure order would get one warning followed by a misdemeanor citation that carries a $500 fine. Violators that refuse to comply will be subject to arrest.

“I need people not to put us in that position in the first place. Follow the law. Follow it voluntarily. I take no pleasure in enforcing this,” Beck said at the mayor’s daily briefing.

We are all stir crazy, and this kind of enforcement is bound to escalate existing tensions between police and citizens.

It will also put a strain on police sources.

Although we aren’t hearing much from the news outlets about shootings lately, last month the Chicago Sun-Times reported there have been 68 homicides so far this year.

It’s not likely that persons with criminal intent are going to be scared straight by COVID-19.

But there are some reasons for the rest of us to be grateful.

Last month, the biggest worry for folks tottering on the edge was the Trump administration’s proposed rule changes in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or “SNAP.”

Advocates claimed the changes would result in hundreds of thousands of children being kicked out of the food assistance program.

Then we were hit with the coronavirus.

Within days, schools were able to put together a system to feed thousands of school children entitled to free lunches and breakfasts even though schools were closed.

That was a blessing.

Pretty soon, individuals who earn up to $75,000 will likely be getting a $1,200 check, plus $500 for each child, thanks to the historic economic relief package set for passage by Congress.

This stimulus package will be a lifeline for families struggling to pay their rent or mortgage.

That’s a huge blessing.

The challenges we still face in fighting this disease are primarily issues that our national and local leaders are working around the clock to fix, such as the lack of medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

Now is the time for us to be a blessing to the people on the front-lines fighting this pandemic.

Don’t make the police make us do it.

Stop the spread.

Stay home.