A runner wears a mask in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Thursday, July 16, 2020. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

LINCOLN PARK — Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said she is not surprised but is embarrassed to learn Lincoln Park is leading the city in the number of new coronavirus cases among young adults.

Officials said Wednesday the area has seen the largest increase in new infections among people 18-29 years old. That age group now makes up most of the city’s new coronavirus cases.

Smith said Wednesday she is “very concerned” by the numbers.

The alderman attributed the area’s spike in cases to people of all ages disregarding social distancing guidelines, like wearing a mask outside the house.

“The bars are open, everyone is out now because it’s the summer, we have a pretty young ward and people have been ignoring the guidance,” Smith said. “I’m upset but not surprised that cases are going up. And, frankly, it’s embarrassing.”

Smith said young people who visit bars and restaurants without following social distancing guidance could ruin reopening for everyone else in the neighborhood.

“The people who are going to these establishments can be the same reason it’s their last weekend,” Smith said. “So people better get sharp, and I encourage establishments to get smart about enforcing rules, too.

“We want to stay open, so everyone needs to wear a mask.” 

In an editorial published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared research that supports evidence cloth face coverings are critical for mitigating the spread of coronavirus — specifically when the masks are universally worn.

Rebecca Reddicliffe, 29, and Kerry Brown, 28, who were masked and having a picnic Wednesday in Oz Park, said they weren’t surprised by the number of new cases among young adults in the neighborhood.

“When I drive around this [area], I see bars are hopping,” Brown said. “I drove through Wrigley the other night and people were spilling out into the streets, pretty close to each other and not wearing masks, so I’m not shocked that it’s spiking among that crowd.” 

Reddicliffe said many young adults are essential workers or having to return to their jobs as businesses reopen.

“If the city is concerned about a spike in cases, then the city needs to act, because there are a lot of things they can do to keep people safe that don’t involve yelling at them,” Reddicliffe said. “Maybe the answer is to not have bars and restaurants open inside and find other ways to support businesses and their workers.” 

A junior DePaul University student, who asked to remain anonymous so she didn’t “throw my friend under the bus,” said most of her circle has been following social distancing guidelines, but there are a few people who “just don’t get it.” 

“My friend was trying to plan a bar crawl the first weekend they reopened, so I politely stayed home and let them make their own choices,” she said. “I’m worried things reopened for the economy and not because they’re actually safe.”

Earlier Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago was “dangerously close” to reversing course on its progress and could close businesses and go back to Phase 3 if cases continue climbing.

Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, directly addressed people within the 18–29 age range, urging them to take precautions more seriously.

“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.”

Older adults and people with underlying medical conditions are most vulnerable to serious complications from having COVID-19, according to the CDC. But people of all ages can catch and spread the virus and suffer severer outcomes — including death.

“National news was made here in Chicago when a young woman in her 20s without significant underlying medical conditions needed a double lung transplant for COVID-19,” Arwady said. “We’ve seen hospitalizations and deaths even in these younger age groups.”

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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