CHICAGO — The city has closed down the lakefront and its adjacent parks, the Riverwalk and the 606 indefinitely to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, announced the closures during a Thursday press conference. Closing the popular parks and trails was not an easy choice, Lightfoot said, but it was “essential” to address the coronavirus crisis.
So far, 949 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Chicago, and officials expect that to hit more than 1,000 by Friday. In fact, the city could get upwards of 40,000 hospitalizations in the coming weeks, Lightfoot said.
Despite the rising number of coronavirus cases and Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay at home order, people crowded the Lakefront Trail and the 606 during a spat of warm weather Wednesday. That’s what led to the decision to close them.
“Your conduct, yours, is posing a direct threat to our public health,” Lightfoot said of people still crowding outside despite the pandemic. “And without question, your failure to abide by these life-saving orders will erase any progress we have made over the past week in slowing the spread of this disease and could lead to more deaths.”
Those who go around barricades and ignore signs to use the trails and parks will be warned and, if they don’t listen, could be fined for up to $500 or even arrested.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said he understands people need to exercise, but it is in the city’s best interest to not congregate in public spaces amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“People need the ability to get out and get fresh air,” Osterman said. “We are asking people to find alternative routes to do that.”
Osterman urged dog walkers and others looking to get fresh air to “keep it to your block or a local route through our neighborhood.”
The popular Bloomingdale Trail, or The 606, which runs through Bucktown and Logan Square, will also be closed to the public, Ald. James Cappleman announced. The Riverwalk is closed, too.
The action came after Lightfoot warned Wednesday she’d shut down parks and beaches if necessary to enforce social distancing.
The crowds of people seen at lakefront beaches and parks and on popular trails goes against what experts — and officials like Lightfoot — have cautioned: People should stay home as much as possible and keep 6 feet away from others when outside to prevent spread of COVID-19.
It’s also a violation of Pritzker’s stay at home order, which was enacted over the weekend. The order urges people to stay at home and says they must practice social distancing.
In a Wednesday tweet, the Police Department said officers were “out and enforcing the shelter in place order. Stay home unless absolutely necessary to leave.”
It’s still OK to leave home to go on walks or to get essentials, like groceries. But walks should be short and kept near the home, Lightfoot said, and people should avoid long bike rides and runs. She also said playgrounds are shut down and people should not play on them.
People shouldn’t be playing games with crowds and shouldn’t be playing contact sports, like soccer and basketball, said Chicago Park District CEO Mike Kelly. Those walking or running on city paths should stay 6 feet from other people, even if that means having to step off to the side.
“The closure of all the parks east of Lake Shore Drive is not an easy one,” Kelly said. But after Wednesday, it had to be done, he said: “That is a very real and direct threat to the health and wellbeing of everyone in this city. Stay home until have to go out for an essential task. And if you have to go out, [practice] social distancing.”
Overall, Chicago Police officers have seen people complying with the stay at home order, said Charlie Beck, interim superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.
But officers did have to warn 56 people on Wednesday, and one person was cited and then arrested for refusing to comply.
So far, there have been 949 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Chicago, as well as five deaths. Throughout Illinois, there have been 1,865 cases of the virus.
Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.
Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.
The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The most common symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.
If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.
How To Protect Yourself
The CDC only recommends those are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.
Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:
- The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
- Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.
What To Do If You Think You’re Sick
Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.
If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.
Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
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