Chicago’s top doctor on Tuesday acknowledged that she expects “some cases” of COVID-19 to spring up among crushes of music fans in Grant Park later this week, but she stood by the city’s decision to host Lollapalooza as infections jump across the nation.
City Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she’s confident in organizers’ plan to check for concertgoers’ proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test — and insisted that despite concerning case numbers, Chicago remains in relatively good shape heading into the massive outdoor festival.
“Here in Chicago, we remain actually in quite good control for COVID, but that is not the case around the country,” Arwady said at a City Hall news conference.
“I would not feel comfortable moving ahead with Lollapalooza without COVID protocols in place. I don’t think I would feel comfortable if this were an indoor event, either, and I frankly don’t think I would feel comfortable if we were sitting in Louisiana right now.”
That’s one of 14 states spanning most of the South and Southwest that are now back on the city’s travel quarantine advisory list, as the more infectious Delta variant of the virus takes hold in less vaccinated areas.
Some critics, including the University of Chicago’s top epidemiologist, have said that surge should make the city reconsider its decision to cram 400,000 people downtown over the course of the four-day festival. Arwady maintained that “we’re being a lot more responsible than many other settings that are just as large” elsewhere in the country.
“I can’t promise that there won’t be any COVID cases associated with Lolla. When you’re having this many folks who are coming through, almost certainly there will be some cases. But I’m confident that the combination of what we know about limited risk in outdoor settings, pairing that with vaccination and/or testing — and ideally mostly vaccination, which is what we expect — as well as all the other mitigation factors, you know, I’m certainly hopeful that we won’t see a significant problem.”
Statewide, the virus is spreading at the fastest rate seen in over three months. The seven-day average case positivity rate is at 3.7%, multiplying by a factor of six since June 25.
The worst flare-ups have been concentrated in areas of southern Illinois bordering Missouri, where average positivity rates have soared past 9% — troubling metrics that would have triggered “mitigations” such as indoor dining closures from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office before the state fully reopened June 11.
For now, with nearly 72% of all eligible residents at least partially vaccinated, Pritzker is leaving potential restrictions up to local governments.
Positivity rates hovered close to 20% in the worst days of the pandemic. Chicago is at 2.6%, but that’s doubled since last week.
New COVID-19 cases by day
Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times
Source: Illinois Department of Public Health
Still, the city has gone a full week without reporting a COVID-19 death. And while statewide hospitalizations are up more than 40% since the start of the month, that burden is still less than an eighth of what hospitals faced at the peak of the crisis. Hospitalizations are up only about 5% in Chicago over the last week, with about seven people being admitted each day.
But experts say rising cases lead to more hospitalizations and deaths — a predictable pattern that has already played out across the state three times previously.
Arwady said city officials “certainly are concerned” about the spike that she expects to keep increasing, “but I don’t want there to be unnecessary panic at this point. I just want to make sure people get vaccinated.”
The city expanded appointment hours for its in-home vaccination program, which is available to all residents by calling (312) 746-4835.
For help finding a shot in suburban Cook County, visit cookcountypublichealth.org or call (833) 308-1988. To find other Illinois providers, visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or call (833) 621-1284.