CHICAGO — Chicago could close businesses and go back to Phase 3 if new cases continue to climb, Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned Wednesday morning.
The announcement comes as the city’s average number of new cases continues to climb, as does the positivity rate. Young people are driving the uptick in new cases, with people age 18-29 now accounting for 30 percent of coronavirus cases reported in recent weeks in Chicago, officials said.
The Lincoln Park area is the spot that’s seen the most increases in cases of people age 18-29.
Lightfoot said people age 18-29 must stop gathering in large groups and start wearing masks in public if the city wants to stay on track.
After that age group, the most new cases have been seen among people 30-39 and 40-49 years old, officials said.
The rise in cases comes as other cities across the country are rolling back their reopenings because they’ve faced more significant surges in new cases.
“Yes, our metrics are tracking better than the rest of the country, but that doesn’t mean that we can ever let our guard down,” Lightfoot said. “It means our precautions are working and that we need to continue to be diligent.”
The city is now seeing an average of 192 new cases per day. That number has been slowly climbing for weeks — and it’s now worryingly close to 200, the number at which Chicago goes back to being considered a city with a high incidence of coronavirus.
And Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said she expects new cases to keep climbing.
“When we get back above 200 we’re back in a high incidence state, and for me that means we are back in a caution state,” Arwady said during Wednesday’s press conference. At another point, she added, “I think there is wishful thinking happening that COVID is over.
“It is not over.”
Hitting and staying above 200 will be a “great concern” for officials, Arwady said. Lightfoot said they had the press conference so they could warn Chicagoans they’re close to the 200 mark; they hope the warning can keep people from violating social distancing rules and driving up new cases.
If the city does hit more than 200 cases per day, it will not equal an automatic rollback to Phase 3, but officials will look at problem areas, Arwady said. If they’re seeing cases come from bars, they’d consider closing bars, for example.
“For you following every day how we’re doing in Chicago, that’s the number I want you to watch,” Arwady said. “And I want you to help us … drive that number down. It’s how we move ahead in Chicago and not backwards.”
What things are closed or rolled back would depend on how much cases increase and how quickly, but the city could consider a full move back into Phase 3 if Chicago was seeing an average of more than 400 new cases per day, officials said.
An uptick would mean Chicago has “no choice” but to go back to Phase 3, Lightfoot said. That’d mean an end to indoor dining, the closing of businesses like theaters and prohibiting people from gathering in groups larger than 10. There’d be restrictions on mobility again, as well, Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot said people must wear masks in public and stop gathering in large groups if they want to prevent a rollback and keep businesses open.
“Minimize gathering in large groups. I repeat: The larger the group the higher risk that someone in that group has COVID-19. So minimize gathering in large groups,” Lightfoot said. “Wear a face covering when you leave your house everywhere … not just some of the time, but all of the time. That’s critically important to reduce the spread.”
Young people are at less risk for serious adverse effects of COVID-19, but they can happen, Arwady said. A Chicago woman in her 20s who had no significant underlying conditions had to get a double lung transplant last month coronavirus severely damaged her lungs.
“You are not immune to COVID-19,” Lightfoot said to young people. “The reality is actually quite different, and the data proves it. … We’re seeing these increases across race and ethnicity and all over the city [among young people]. And this should be the proof that you need: If you are in the 18-to-29-year-old cohort, you are catching COVID-19. You are getting sick.
“… The problem isn’t just that you’re hurting yourself. The problem isn’t just that you’re hurting people in your network. … You’re hurting the whole city.”
Officials also pointed out young people could transmit the virus to older people, who are more at risk from COVID-19. Arwady said she’s concerned Chicago could see an increase in cases among elderly people.
“Especially if you’re in a younger age group, I’m not surprised you’re out more,” Arwady said. “You’re at a lower risk, it is true, for these serious outcomes; but, if you have in your close circle people who have underlying conditions or especially people in those older age groups, I need you … to be extra careful with those vulnerable folks in your life.”
Still, Arwady noted, Chicago has seen fewer deaths in recent weeks. The city is down to an average of four deaths per day from coronavirus, the lowest that number has been since March. The doctor expects there will soon be a day when Chicago sees no deaths from COVID-19.
And hospitalization data looks “great,” Arwady said, with the numbers of people hospitalized, in the ICU and using a ventilator all declining.
Lightfoot said she wants to avoid shutting down the economy again, “but, if we must, we must.”
“We are dangerously close to going back to a dangerous state of conditions,” she said.
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