Last summer, a massive music festival cramming 400,000 writhing, sweaty concertgoers into Grant Park was unthinkable under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 restrictions.
But next week, Pritzker himself is planning to be among the throngs of revelers at Lollapalooza despite renewed concerns of another coronavirus surge fueled by the more infectious Delta variant.
With a mask, a little bit of social distancing and especially a COVID-19 vaccination, the shows can go on safely, the governor said Thursday — even though daily cases have tripled in the weeks leading up to the fest.
And Thursday’s four-digit caseload was the highest in more than two months.
“It’s an outdoor festival, as you know, and it’s safer outdoors than it is indoors,” Pritzker said during an unrelated news conference. “I know lots of people will attend. I think, again, it’s up to individuals to make a decision about whether they want to be in a large group.”
“I would recommend to people that if they’re going to be jammed together, please wear a mask. We encourage you to do that if you’re going to be in large crowds.
“But if you feel comfortable and you can, you know, put a little distance between yourself and other people — and if you’re vaccinated, I might add — it’s safer. Just a little distance, and if you’re vaccinated, it’s safe for you to attend something like this.”
Pritzker, 56, said he’ll be with his wife “and a few friends” at the downtown jamboree, which takes over Grant Park next Thursday through Sunday.
The fest drew an estimated 400,000 people over four days during its last run in 2019. Concertgoers this time around have to show up with proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from within 72 hours of entrance. Anyone suffering COVID-like symptoms is asked to stay home regardless of vaccination status.
Anyone who is unvaccinated will be required to wear a mask while attending the festival. And even those who got the shot are urged to consider masking up.
“I think it’s OK, but again, people need to be aware that we are not past this pandemic. It is with us,” Pritzker said. “I just want to be clear: vaccinations keep you safe, but we all need to keep our communities and our friends and neighbors and our family members safe. Wear a mask if you can, when you feel like you should.”
Cases have been on the rise across Illinois for almost a month. With 71% of eligible residents now at least partially vaccinated, the state reported 1,993 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, the highest daily count since the first week of May.
The state has averaged 1,027 new cases per day over the past week, up from a rate of just 357 per day at the start of July. The average statewide infection rate has tripled since then, too, with the statewide case positivity rate up to 3%.
In Chicago, an average of 108 people are testing positive each day, an 86% increase compared to the previous week, and the positivity rate has almost doubled over the same span to 1.8%.
That’s still low compared to the worst days of the crisis, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said, noting that cases are up across the nation. COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths remain at pandemic lows in the city.
“This isn’t like the first two really bad surges where we were concerned about overwhelming the health system,” Arwady said during an online Q&A. “It’s more of an increase that we are seeing landing on unvaccinated Chicagoans, by and large.”
A day after Mayor Lori Lightfoot insisted “we’ve made the right decisions” about opening the gates to Lollapalooza, Arwady stood by it, saying “I expect cases to continue to increase regardless of whether Lolla is happening.”
She encouraged attendees to consider masking up, acknowledging the city “probably will” be instituting more mask recommendations in the weeks ahead if cases keep rising.
New COVID-19 cases by day
Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times
Source: Illinois Department of Public Health
“The risk for events like this — in a lot of ways, we don’t worry as much about the large outdoor event as we do about all of the indoor gathering that tends to happen around large events,” she said. “So we think about people who are at indoor parties or in hotel rooms or, you know, on transit. … There will be, obviously, additional focus on this.”
Arwady called it “the balancing act” facing the city. “My big thing is: Are we concerned about overwhelming the health care system, and do we have a widely available, highly protective vaccine?” she said. “If you are vaccinated, your risk remains relatively low, so that’s the most important thing.”
“Maybe you don’t want to get right into the middle of the mosh pit, and I can’t make that individual level decision for you. I can tell you that the risk here in Chicago at this point, you know, for someone who is vaccinated, remains low,” Arwady said.
“It’s when you’re going into a crowded situation, [the risk] goes up a bit, for sure, but if you’re vaccinated, think about wearing a mask, and, you know, maybe avoid having the people screaming directly in your face.”
Any Chicagoan can request an in-home vaccination by calling (312) 746-4835.