LOGAN SQUARE — Chicagoans are jogging along park trails and playing sports in the grass, a sign of spring — except this time, it could lead to the closure of parks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The city shut down the Lakefront Trail and lakefront-adjacent parks, The 606 and the Riverwalk last week, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot saying far too many people were crowding the popular paths amid a spot of warm weather just last week.
And Lightfoot warned the city would shut down all the parks if people didn’t abide by the stay at home order and by social distancing guidelines.
But people are already breaking the rules: On Wednesday, when it hit 53 degrees, people sidestepped police tape and moved barriers so they could still jog near the lakefront. Officers ended up clearing out Lincoln Park.
Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, is concerned more nice weather will lead to all parks being shut down if people don’t start practicing social distancing.
“People really do need to obey the governor’s and the mayor’s orders to not congregate, wherever that is,” Irizarry said Thursday morning. “Certainly that includes staying away from the places that have been shut down along the lakefront.
“I’m concerned the weather will only keep getting nicer and we will have more problems and then we will lose access to more of our parks.”
Officials have repeatedly advised people to stay 6 feet from each other — and only for short periods of time — and to not congregate even when outside.
Despite that, Lightfoot said last week she’d seen people playing football in parks and crowding the Lakefront Trail as they jogged and rode bikes.
“Do not let the warming weather let your guard slip, like today,” Lightfoot said March 25. “We will be forced to shut down our parks and the entire lakefront if people continue to flout these social distancing guidelines. … If people don’t take this in the serious way in which they must, I’m not going to hesitate to pull every lever at my disposal to force compliance if necessary.”
The day after that, when the city officially closed the lakefront and its parks, Lightfoot warned people not to start gathering at inland parks now that the lakefront was shutdown. Though playgrounds and park facilities, like field houses, are closed, people are still allowed to go to the parks to walk and use the green spaces.
The mayor said she understands people are frustrated at being stuck inside, and it was a hard decision to close the Lakefront Trail, The 606 and the Riverwalk.
But Lightfoot will do whatever she can to protect people’s health amid the pandemic, she said.
“Your conduct, yours, is posing a direct threat to our public health,” she said of the rulebreakers on March 26. But then she warned the rest of the city: “You cannot congregate, pure and simple. This includes neighborhood parks and playgrounds.”
Despite many memes of Lightfoot shutting down outdoor activities, some people have not gotten the message.
Chicago has had 3,123 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far and dozens of deaths. The peak of cases is expected to hit in mid- to late April, with Lightfoot warning Chicago could see 40,000 people hospitalized in coming weeks.
But social distancing can prevent spread of the virus and, thus, deaths, officials have said.
Lightfoot and other officials have said people can still get outside for exercise and fresh air so long as they practice social distancing: They should stay away from others, keep their time outside short and stay close to home.
And instead of crowding at popular parks, people should explore parks they wouldn’t normally visit, Irizarry said. Friends of the Parks — an advocacy group for the city’s more than 600 parks and play lots — is running a social media campaign highlighting how people are practicing social distancing while in parks.
It’s a great time to look up parks that aren’t frequently visited so that there’s no congregating and the city doesn’t close them, Irizarry said.
“I will say we are always worried about” parks being closed, Irizarry said. “I can’t predict the future, but certainly as we look at this crisis around the world, we do know there are places that have gone further than what Chicago and Illinois have so far in terms of keeping people in their houses altogether.
“We hope that Chicagoans can use our parks and open spaces in wise ways so we can continue to have that outlet that is important to our … physical health and mental health.”
In Italy, jogging and cycling was banned as the coronavirus death toll rose, and people can only step outside around their homes.
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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