Weekend of Protests, Social Gatherings May Cause Coronavirus Spike, Chicago’s Top Doc Says

Protesters wear masks in Chicago on Saturday, May 30, 2020, but health officials worry that large gatherings could lead to a spike in the number of COVID-19 infections. (Hugo Balta / WTTW News)Protesters wear masks in Chicago on Saturday, May 30, 2020, but health officials worry that large gatherings could lead to a spike in the number of COVID-19 infections. (Hugo Balta / WTTW News)

Chicago was cautiously inching toward phase three of its reopening after more than two months of a pandemic-induced shutdown, but that caution flew out the window over the weekend, possibly setting the city up for a major backslide, officials fear.

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Speaking at a press conference Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said: “What we have seen is people abandoning public health guidance. COVID-19 has not disappeared … We worry about the thousands of people out in the streets. God forbid we see a spike …  just as we saw the light at the end of the tunnel.”

In addition to all those who took part in the weekend’s at-times violent protests — sparked by outrage over the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd while in police custody — plenty of other Chicagoans have simply relaxed their vigilance, according to Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

More people are gathering in larger groups with individuals outside their immediate household and fewer are wearing masks, said Arwady, which could undo much of the progress Chicago has made against the coronavirus.

“We may see ourselves take a step backwards,” Arwady said. “The virus does not care what else is going on in the city. We still do not have a treatment. We still do not have a cure or a vaccine.”

In the past 24 hours, 974 more people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Illinois and 23 people have died from the virus — the lowest figures since the first week of April, according to data provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Chicago accounted for 310 of those new cases, and 10 of the dead were Chicago residents. 

Arwady urged anyone who was part of any group over the weekend to self-isolate for 14 days, especially those who weren’t able to maintain social distance and weren’t wearing masks. Most importantly, she said to avoid contact with people in high-risk groups — older adults and those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

“Please continue to stay safe,” Arwady said, “even during this time where it’s (COVID-19’s) not the top thing on everyone’s mind.”

Continue practicing social distancing, wash your hands and wear a mask, she advised.

Lightfoot said she hasn’t made a decision yet about whether the weekend’s events will cause her to push back Wednesday’s anticipated reopening of a number of types of businesses, including outdoor dining.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 | [email protected]


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