Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) handed out 5,000 face masks throughout Lincoln Park in June to encourage mask-wearing. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

LINCOLN PARK — Neighborhood leaders say they’ve made progress in reversing Lincoln Park’s status as a coronavirus hot spot, but that progress could be rolled back if people don’t start wearing — or continue to wear — face masks.

On Monday, officials launched Face It Lincoln Park, a virtual campaign urging neighbors to “face the facts and wear a mask.” They hope by encouraging mask-wearing the spread of coronavirus will slow in the neighborhood, saving lives and businesses.

Experts at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention say wearing a mask or face covering is one of the most effective methods of preventing coronavirus spread.

“The only way out of this is to wear a mask as often as humanly possible, even when around friends and family,” said Ald. Michele Smith (43rd).

Smith previously said it was “embarrassing” when city health officials reported in July that her ward had the greatest number of new coronavirus cases as young people flocked to reopening bars and restaurants without following social distancing guidelines.

Smith’s North Side ZIP code of 60614 saw a positivity rate of 5.3 percent for the week ending July 4, while the citywide rate was at 3.9 percent, according to data from the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Lincoln Park’s positivity rate was down to just 2.2 percent on Aug. 22, but it has since risen back to 4.3 percent, according to city data.

“Our cases have come down quite a bit, but they’re still not good enough, and we did have that bump,” Smith said.

Smith said Lincoln Park’s Face It campaign will use social media to encourage neighbors to keep wearing their face masks. 

It follows another effort by Smith that encouraged mask use by giving out 5,000 face masks across Lincoln Park during a single day in June.

But the campaign needs to be a citywide effort for it to succeed, Smith said. 

“We have a lot of people who don’t live in Lincoln Park that visit and support our businesses, but we all need to band together by wearing masks all the time,” Smith said.

Jerry Mickelson, owner of JAM Productions and Lincoln Park concert venue Park West, said his business has been closed since mid-March and it will only reopen after Chicago gets a handle on the virus’s spread.

“We were the first to close and will be the last to open,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson said Park West has no revenue coming in, and he’s prepared to be closed through the end of next year — or summer 2021 “if we’re lucky.”

“It’s sad but a reality we have to deal with, and things would be a lot better if people wore masks,” Mickelson said.

Park West is among many Lincoln Park businesses that won’t fully reopen until Chicago gets a stronger handle on the pandemic.

Faraz Sardharia, chef and owner of Tandoor Char House on Halsted, said his Indian restaurant has exclusively relied on takeout orders and its new outdoor dining permit for income.

“We refuse to open our dining room because we’re still scared by people out there not wearing masks,” Sardharia said. “But we need our dining rooms open to survive, and without people wearing masks, it’s very tough for us to be comfortable doing that.”

Other participants in the neighborhood’s Face It campaign include the Lincoln Central Association, local chamber of commerce, Lincoln Park Zoo, Oz Park Baseball Association, local doctors and other businesses.

“Right now, many of our businesses are hanging on by their fingernails and won’t survive unless we help them,” Smith said. “Just wear a mask so we can stay open and then control [the virus’s spread] on a smaller level before winter.”

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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