Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday unveiled a framework to gradually re-open the Chicago economy and talked about the possibility of re-opening portions of the lakefront and allowing shaggy-haired Chicagoans to return to barbershops and hair salons.
With Chicago now stuck in Phase 2, Lightfoot was asked what Phase 3 might look like when the city meets the strict epidemiological markers she has established to move on to that next step.
Might she consider re-opening the iconic gathering places she closed because Chicagoans could not be trusted to maintain social distance: the lakefront with all of its parks and beaches, the 606 Trail, the Chicago Riverwalk and neighborhood playgrounds?
“When I made the hard decision — but, I believe, the appropriate decision — to close down the lakefront, it’s because we talked, we talked, we talked and people ignored it. Now, the weather is even nicer. The lakefront is beautiful. It’s an incredible attraction. We can’t go back to where we were,” the mayor said.
“People have been sending me … really interesting suggestions about a phased re-opening. Even having segmented hours for particular types of activities. I think those are really interesting ideas. So we’re gonna having more conversations with our parks department, but also with the local aldermen who touch the lakefront and figure out a plan that makes sense.”
Lightfoot was criticized for getting a haircut when salons and barber shops were closed. She responded that she’s doing interviews on national and international TV and needed to maintain her public appearance.
On Friday, the mayor was asked whether those “one-on-one, appointment-only” businesses (which also includes accountants and attorneys) would be allowed to open in Phase 3 for Chicagoans whose hair has been growing wild during the stay-at-home order and all the women who desperately want to have their roots done.
“They’re gonna have to have a very tight plan to make sure that they protect their workers and they protect their customers. But I can see some of those settings being appropriate in phase 3, once we get there,” Lightfoot said.
Getting there won’t be easy.
Before moving on to what Lightfoot calls the “cautiously re-open” Phase 3, the number of coronavirus cases would need to decline over a 14-day period and the rate or transmission across Chicago and surrounding counties would need to be decreasing.
Chicago would need to have enough testing and contact-tracing capacity to track the disease and limit its spread. And the city would need enough “support systems” in place to protect “vulnerable” people while still having enough health care capacity to handle a “potential future surge.”
“We don’t want to see more than 1,800 COVID patients needing non-ICU beds in Chicago hospitals. … Right now, we’re at a little bit under 1,200. We right now have 480 patients in ICU in Chicago hospitals. We really can’t handle more than about 600 COVID patients across our ICUs. We have 321 COVID patients on ventilators. We can’t handle more than about 450,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.
“Setting these concrete numbers helps us understand that, as we open and as we potentially see some small increases in cases, we don’t run the risk of overwhelming our health care system.”
Testing is another hurdle.
“By the end of the month, our goal is to be able to test at least 5% of Chicago residents every month. That works out to us being able to do 4,500 tests a day here in Chicago. We’re at about 3,000 tests a day. We’re going to grow that by about 50 percent just over the next few weeks,” Arwady said.
The measure that includes “positivity rate” of coronavirus testing is also critical. It can be impacted either with fewer new cases or more testing.
On that front, the city’s goal is 30% positive at congregate settings, like nursing homes, homeless center and Cook County Jail and 15% as a rolling average over 14 days for community settings.
Some of the mayor’s standards are stricter than the much-criticized plans laid out by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
But the mayor’s plan allows the city to move between phases every 14 days, instead of waiting 28 days, as the governor proposed.
Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia has urged Pritzker to relax his five-step plan to allow restaurants to open at 25% capacity on June 1 with strict safeguards for restaurant employees, including face masks and mandatory temperature checks.
Lightfoot said she shares Toia’s concern about restaurants going out of business, damaging the “social fabric” of Chicago. But she stopped short of embracing Toia’s proposed opening date.
Instead, she plans to release “specific industry guidelines” in the coming weeks that, deputy mayor for economic development Samir Mayekar said, would be “like a playbook for different industries” on how to safely reopen.
“Even within the restaurant industry, there’s a walk-up hot dog stand. There’s a big, formal, sit-down restaurant. There’s restaurants that have family tables. It’s not one size fits all,” the mayor told the Sun-Times.
“We have to make sure that we are in very close contact and dialogue with them, as we have been, before we make any decisions about opening.”
The governor on Friday said restaurants are more difficult to open compared to small shops because of social distancing.
“Just the number of people who kind of come in contact with the thing that you’re ultimately getting delivered to you, and they can’t be delivered in a socially distant way is the reason,” Pritzker said.
But the governor said he wants to make sure restaurants find a way to operate once they’re allowed to open.
“We want to make sure that when it does get phased in that there’s a way to do it that doesn’t involve quite so many interactions or that we make sure that we’ve seen the effect of all the other industries that will open,” Pritzker said.
On re-opening the lakefront, Lightfoot talked about possibly hiring a new army of social distancing enforcers.
“I think a lot about the ushers at Wrigley. They’re pretty tough. They’re checking your ticket. They’re making sure you’re going to the right seat. We need to have the same kind of rigor … in thinking about reopening our parks and other big public spaces,” she said.