The meme was bouncing around Facebook. A photo of Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a press conference. She wears a grim, menacing frown. Her hands grip the City Hall podium. The boldface caption reads, “I said, Get in the House.”
It took me back to the treasured summers of my childhood, those long, sultry evenings of playtime. Time for bike riding, double dutching, hopscotching, firefly chasing.
“Be home by the time the streetlights come on,” was Mama’s iron-clad rule.
The lights came on. Mama waves at the window.
A few minutes later, she calls out. Later, a shout. “It’s getting dark … you need to come home. … I told you before … ”
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Then, she is standing over me, with a grim, menacing frown, hands on her hips.
“Get in the house!”
Lightfoot’s stern message made national headlines Thursday. She brought down the hammer on Chicagoans who blithely ignored strict orders to stay out of parks, playgrounds and other gathering places in this coronavirus spring.
Lightfoot shut down the entire Chicago lakefront, its adjacent parks and recreational areas, the 606 Trail and the Riverwalk.
Like my Mama, the mayor warned us. She cautioned on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, when revelers defied her warnings and packed the bars.
Every day since, Lightfoot and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker have issued pleas, cautions, warnings and threats on the airwaves, on social media, in press conferences, statements and interviews.
As Lightfoot took the podium Wednesday, her voice crackled with frustration. She shared reports of people jogging, biking, playing basketball and hanging out on the lakefront and elsewhere.
“Stay at home,” except for runs to the grocery store and other essential trips, she admonished. No group gatherings.
“If you are not abiding by these orders, we will be forced to shut down the parks and lakefront,” she warned the frolickers. “The situation is deadly serious, and we need you take it deadly seriously,” CBS Chicago quoted her as saying.
Most did follow orders, but in a city of nearly 3 million, most is not enough. One person who defies a stay-at-home order and gets infected can pass it on to several others, according to medical experts.
Cook County is emerging as one of the nation’s coronavirus “hot spots,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Thursday. That day, Chicago reported more than 1,100 confirmed cases.
The whining and sulking have ensued. Lightfoot is restricting our freedoms, some complained. Why is it OK to walk to the grocery store but not OK to run along the lake? The liquor stores and marijuana stores are open, but we are closing the parks?
When Mama ordered me home, I whined and sulked. This little girl didn’t fully understand she was trying to the protect me from the predators lurking on dark city streets.
Lightfoot is trying to shield us from another threat we don’t fully understand, a predator virus that can plague every human encounter.
She has been briefed by the doctors and the scientists. Chicago could suffer 40,000 coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the coming few weeks, she says.
Managing the coronavirus is complex. One thing is simple. If you are exposed, you could die and take others with you.
In one way, Chicago is very lucky. Our mayor does not play.
At least for now, neither can we.
Follow Laura S. Washington on Twitter @MediaDervish
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