Video: Mayor Lori Lightfoot appears on “Chicago Tonight.” (Produced by Alex Silets)
A year after COVID-19 swept Chicago and upended life as Chicagoans knew it, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city is poised to recover after one of the most difficult years in its history.
As the scope of the pandemic became clear a year ago, Lightfoot said she quickly realized that she — and the city — were on their own, and could not rely on the federal government for help.
“I regret that we didn’t get more guidance and partnership and collaboration from the Trump administration,” Lightfoot said during an interview for “Chicago Tonight.” “The federal government was not competent.”
That “no doubt” resulted in the deaths of people in Chicago, and across the country, Lightfoot said.
“That is a terrible regret” she has, Lightfoot said.
However, the Biden administration’s approach has been “night and day,” and that has helped speed the distribution of vaccines and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Starting March 29, all essential workers and those with underlying health conditions in Chicago will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, Lightfoot announced Wednesday. That means most Chicagoans will be eligible.
“We feel very optimistic” there will be enough vaccine to meet demand in April and May, Lightfoot said.
The city has also made significant strides in recent weeks to vaccinate Black and Latino Chicagoans, who have the highest risk of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19, Lightfoot said.
In December, 9.8% of Chicagoans who got at least their first vaccine shot were Latino, while 8.1% were Black, according to city data. More than 59% of those who were vaccinated in Chicago during December were white.
Since then, the city has prioritized vaccines for the Black and Latino neighborhoods that have been hardest hit during the pandemic. Approximately 30% of those who have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine are Latino, while 24% are Black, according to city data released Wednesday.
The city’s population is approximately one-third white, one-third Black and one-third Latino, according to census figures.
“There is still room for improvement,” Lightfoot said, calling the progress “remarkable.”
In addition, the number of Black and Latino Chicagoans diagnosed with COVID-19 has dropped “exponentially” in recent weeks, a reason to be optimistic that perhaps the worst of the pandemic is behind Chicago.
However, Lightfoot warned that the number of COVID-19 infections in Chicago has stopped dropping, and is hovering around 300 cases per day, based on a seven-day rolling average. City officials have set 200 cases per day as an indication that there is a low amount of COVID-19 circulating in the city.
“Things remain stable, but, really, we’ve stopped seeing improvement,” she said.
While Lightfoot said she expects the summer of 2021 to look more like the summer of 2019 than the summer of 2020, Chicagoans must be careful, she warned.
“We’ve got to be cautious,” said Lightfoot, who said she was very concerned about rising cases in Europe and other states. “We have to remain diligent.”
Lightfoot also defended her decision to use $281.5 million in COVID-19 federal relief funds approved in March 2020 to cover the cost of salaries and benefits for Chicago Police Department officers. Progressive aldermen and community groups slammed the mayor for that decision, saying the money would have been better spent directly helping Chicagoans endure the economic collapse triggered by the pandemic.
The city invested the bulk of the funds to address the disproportionate impact the pandemic had on the poorest Chicagoans and Black and Latino neighborhoods, Lightfoot said.
Chicago is set to get another $1.9 billion from the relief package signed by President Joe Biden, and Lightfoot said paying down high-interest debt that the City Council approved as part of the 2021 budget would be her top priority.
“We’re going to be smart, we’re going to be forward-focused and really looking at those areas of our city that need a boost,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve got to use this money truly as a stimulus and to help people that are most in need.”