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Chicago Protests Could Be ‘Super-Spreading’ Coronavirus Events — Even With Masks, Lightfoot Says

The city was set to enter Phase 3 of reopening Wednesday, but that might now happen in the midst of protests, Lightfoot said.

Protesters march on May 30, 2020 after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’s worried protests throughout the city this weekend could have been “super-spreading” events for the coronavirus.

The vast majority of people in Chicago’s protests wore masks, and some organizers set up their marches to allow social distancing. But there were crowds that gathered and marched throughout the city — and officials have warned for months large groups of people pose a serious risk of spreading COVID-19.

“This disease is still ravaging our Black and Brown communities, and our public health officials are gravely concerned that yesterday’s action could turn out to be a super spreader event,” Lightfoot said during a Sunday press conference.

A “super-spreading” event is an incident where one person “infects a large number of other people — sometimes 10, 20, sometimes even more in one setting,” Dr. Justin Lessler, of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CBS News.

Lightfoot said she does support peaceful protests, and she urged those who join in to wear face coverings and to maintain 6 feet of social distance to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among attendees.

There were likely asymptomatic people who were unknowingly spreading the virus during the weekend protests, the mayor said.

The city was on track to enter Phase 3 of the state reopening plan Wednesday, Lightfoot said, and now she’s in talks with public health officials about if it will still be safe to do that.

“I’m very concerned about the fact that, while I think the vast majority of people that gathered in the streets were wearing masks … but the fact of the matter is there were thousands of people in the streets, in very close proximity to each other, who were not social distancing,” Lightfoot said. “We know from both the governor’s guidance and transparency around how COVID is spread, certainly ours as well, there’s a number of asymptomatic people out there.

“I’m worried. I’m absolutely worried about a potential outbreak as a result of what we saw yesterday. Thousands of people … cheek to jowl in small spaces is exactly the opposite of what we have been preaching now for 10 weeks time. … We are still on track for reopening Wednesday; if that changes, we will certainly let people know as quickly as possible.”

Lightfoot has a press conference on the protests at 10 a.m.

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 120,260 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Sunday. Many of those patients have recovered since testing positive.

• At least 5,390 people have died in Illinois as a result of the virus.

• There have been 45,516 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chicago and at least 2,119 people have died.

If You Need Help

• Sick? Broke? Want To Help? Here’s A Massive List Of Coronavirus Resources In Chicago

What’s Happening In Chicago

Free Meals: CPS is not giving out free meals for children Monday.

Briefings: Gov. JB Pritzker will no longer do daily coronavirus briefings.

• Arrests: Despite the mayor’s claim that police have enforced social distancing equally across Chicago, data shows almost all arrests and citations for congregating have been issued on the city’s South and West sides.

• Contact Tracing: Pritzker is ramping up the tracing program that intends to isolate every person known to be in recent contact with someone who has newly confirmed case.

The city is also looking for an organization to head up a 600-person contact tracing team.

• Reopening Businesses: The state has released its guidelines for how businesses can safely reopen during Phase 3. The city released rules of its own, too.

Here’s what the city wants bars, restaurants, salons and stores to do before they can reopen.

• Child Care: The state is now allowing child care centers to reopen during Phase 3, though with capacity limits. Day camps will be allowed to reopen, too, though they also face restrictions.

• Mental Health: Lightfoot urged Chicagoans to embrace their feelings and find ways to care for themselves, saying she’s allowed herself to cry during the pandemic.

• “We’re Not Them”: Lightfoot said Chicago won’t rush to reopen like Florida and Georgia and will instead focus on saving lives.

• Domestic Violence: Demand is spiking at domestic violence shelters, but they’re losing beds for social distancing.

• Undercounting Deaths: The number of COVID-19 deaths in Illinois is likely higher than what’s been reported, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

 Masks: Everyone is now required to wear a face covering or mask when unable to social distance. And yes, stores can require you to wear a face covering if you want to shop.

Here’s what you need to know about the requirement.

• Testing: Officials are now saying anyone with coronavirus symptoms can get tested in Illinois. Before, they’d advised most people to simply stay at home and assume they had coronavirus.

Here’s where you can get tested in Chicago.


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 or difficulty breathing
  • Chills and shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of taste and/or smell

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion and runny nose, 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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