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Chicago Is Cracking Down On Congregating In Parks During Coronavirus Pandemic

"The issue is congregating," Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned Monday. "And that's what we can't tolerate."

Police officers watch runners in Lincoln Park where Chicago Police officers began clearing out pedestrians and cyclists in the late afternoon on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The city is stepping up its efforts to keep people from congregating in neighborhood parks as coronavirus continues to spread.

Everyone in Illinois has been ordered to stay at home as much as possible through at least April 30. And though park facilities like field houses and playgrounds are closed as part of the order, green spaces at the city’s parks remain open so people can walk around and exercise.

But this weekend, when people packed into Humboldt Park to enjoy a bout of warm weather, police ended up having to clear the park — just as they did last week at Lincoln Park.

The issue is while the majority of people are following the stay at home order and practicing social distancing, some are still going to parks and gathering in groups, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday morning.

“The parks continue to be an attraction,” Lightfoot said. “Yes, it’s a beautiful day. The weather’s getting warmer. But we need people to comply.”

Officials worry crowds at parks could make it easier for coronavirus to spread, worsening the pandemic.

People have been cited and there have been a small number of arrests due to people not following the order, Lightfoot said. Eleven citations have been issued and three people were arrested between March 25 and April 5, a police spokesperson said.

Interim Police Supt. Charlie Beck has said police officers will first warn people if they are violating the stay at home order or social distancing guidelines. Police have dispersed groups 1,584 times between March 25 and April 5, a police spokespersons aid.

If people don’t listen, they can be fined up to $500 per violation or even arrested, Beck said.

It’s not a problem for people to be outside, Lightfoot said. She’s encouraged Chicagoans to go for short walks, jogs and bicycle rides close to home, and she’s said it’s OK to stop by parks.

“The issue is congregating,” she said. “And that’s what we can’t tolerate.”

After people crowded the lakefront in late March, Lightfoot shut down the Lakefront Trail and its adjacent parks, the Riverwalk and the 606.

Some are worried all parks could be closed if people continue to gather in them — especially now that it’s warming up outside and people want to get out of their homes.

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 last week. “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.”


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:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • 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

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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