CHICAGO — A second surge of coronavirus has hit Chicago — and it’s being fueled by small groups of family and friends meeting up, experts said.
The city is seeing its new cases, positivity rate and hospitalizations skyrocket. Officials said they’re considering bringing back tighter restrictions to try to once again curb the spread of COVID-19 here. But the main thing that’s driving the spread is something the city can’t regulate well: small gatherings, officials said.
About two-thirds of Chicagoans who got COVID-19 said they got it from someone they know, like a family member, friend or coworker — and three out of four of those close interactions took place at home, according to the city.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said they’re seriously concerned about this second surge and need Chicagoans to return to social distancing, masking, washing their hands and avoiding crowds to prevent more people from becoming sick and dying.
“Please, do not invite anyone over to your house or apartment,” Arwady said during a Monday news conference. “This is not the time for non-essential gatherings, period.”
The officials said many people have “COVID fatigue,” meaning they’re not following safety guidelines as closely as they once did. And Arwady said people feel comfortable around small groups of friends and family, who they think are “safe,” so they let down their guard and don’t wear masks or keep 6 feet away, even when indoors.
Over the summer, when the pandemic eased, people began once again hosting dinner parties, card games and other small gatherings, Lightfoot said.
But that’s how the virus is spreading most frequently in Chicago, officials said.
“But I’m here to tell you that, that has to stop,” Lightfoot said. “And particularly as we are coming on Halloween and then Thanksgiving and then Christmas and Hanukkah and other holidays, we have to be diligent to keep down the number of people that are allowing into our homes.”
The city’s also increasingly seen large gathering of unmasked young people walking down the streets — bar hopping or traveling to each other’s apartments — and that’s been problematic, Lightfoot said.
“Folks, that has to stop. You are not immune to the effects and ravages of COVID-19,” Lightfoot said. “… This is about saving lives. It’s about saving your life and the life of somebody you love and care about, and the life of your neighbor and the life of our city. We can’t get through this without being in this together.”
Even if it’s younger people who are going out and about, Arwady said, they spread the virus to older people who are more at risk of dying or having a severe case of COVID-19.
The surge is affecting people of every age group, every ethnicity and in every part of Chicago. Arwady said she expects to see deaths start to rise again as a result of the surge.
Already, more than 3,000 Chicagoans have been killed by COVID-19.
Some people have criticized the city for allowing bars — and, to a lesser extent, restaurants — to have indoor patrons during the pandemic. That criticism has gotten stronger as cases have surged in recent weeks, particularly because experts have said people who are indoors at a bar are at much more risk of spreading coronavirus.
But Lightfoot and Arwady emphasized most of Chicago’s spread is happening among small groups of people and within households. Bars and restaurants have “by and large done a very good job” of following the city’s health rules, Arwady said, and “where we are seeing spread is not the places that we regulate as a city, by and large.”
Still, the city is looking at using every tool in its toolbox, Lightfoot said, and that would including bringing back Phase 3 restrictions. Under Phase 3, bars were not allowed to serve customers indoors.
“In fact, where we see the spread of COVID is where we let down our guard, where we literally let down our mask. Because we feel comfortable with those we love. But the virus is just looking for opportunities to spread,” Arwady said. “You must double down on wearing those masks, even within the home [if around people who aren’t in your household]. You must double down on keeping that distance. And if it is not essential, do not invite people to your home right now who do not already live there.”
The mayor and Arwady urged Chicagoans to keep taking individual actions to slow the spread and save lives.
“What we can control is our home environment, which is why we need to be limiting the number of people who are coming into our homes,” Lightfoot said.
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