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Lakefront Could Reopen Soon — But Chicago Is Not ‘Past COVID’ And Still Needs Safety Restrictions, City’s Top Doc Says

The Lakefront Trail was allowed to reopen in June, but beaches and parks east of it are closed. Many Chicagoans have questioned why indoor dining can return or schools can reopen but people can't spend time outside along the lake.

Steam and the sun rise over Lake Michigan in sub-zero temperatures during the Arctic blast, as seen from the Museum Campus in Chicago on Feb. 7, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Coronavirus safety restrictions will continue to be relaxed as Chicago regains control over its outbreak — and access to the lakefront could be coming soon, Chicago’s top health official said Monday.

The state has allowed Chicago to bring back indoor dining — with safety and capacity restrictions — and Mayor Lori Lightfoot ended the city’s stay at home advisory. More announcements on reopening, including greater access to the lakefront, are coming “very soon,” Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said at a Monday meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Relations.

“We’re feeling good about the way things are going,” Arwady said. “We want to be carefully reopening here as long as the numbers continue to support that, and right now they are looking very good.”

Lightfoot closed the lakefront in late March, saying too many people were congregating on the trail and at parks and beaches, raising the risk of COVID-19 spreading.

The Lakefront Trail was allowed to reopen in June, but beaches and parks east of it are closed. Lightfoot’s been criticized from all sides for that, with many questioning why indoor dining can return or schools reopen but people can’t spend time outside along the lake.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th), whose ward includes popular Montrose Beach and a large section of the lakefront, asked Arwady at Monday’s meeting about when the lakefront could reopen.

“We expect that to happen soon, and more to come shortly,” Arwady said. “We actually just talked about it last week and I know there’s a plan to pull aldermen together and talk about details” about further reopening.

But as the city reopens and more people are vaccinated, Arwady said there is concern some residents will believe the city is “past COVID.”

Chicago’s seven-day positivity rate has fallen to 4.9 percent, its lowest point since early October, and daily deaths and confirmed case have fallen dramatically since a second surge of the virus in the fall.

“Today is our first day under 5 percent [positivity]. We’ve got to hold on to that progress and not have people feel like, ‘Oh, we’re low-risk. We’re done.’ And that’s going to be harder as the weather warms up,” she said.

There are a number of challenges facing the city as it reopens: Multiple confirmed cases of the more contagious variant of the virus from the United Kingdom have been found in Chicago.

And the city is still not getting enough vaccine doses from the federal government, Arwady said. She doesn’t expect Chicago to see a significant bump in how many doses it’s provided until late February or early March.

So far, more than 323,000 people have been vaccinated in Chicago, with about 63 percent of doses going to residents of the city and 37 percent of doses going to non-residents.

More than 56,000 Chicagoans have also been vaccinated outside the city, as well.

Officials have cautioned it will be months before vaccines are widely available to the public. Chicago’s plan tentatively predicts vaccines will be available to everyone 16 and older by late May.

That means people are still at risk and will have to continue taking precautions for much of 2021, officials have said. People should keep wearing a mask, staying socially distant, washing their hands frequently, not gathering, not traveling and not having people into their home, experts have said.

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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