LINCOLN PARK — Even as vaccination numbers increase daily, city leaders are warning of a potential third surge in new coronavirus cases — and younger people living in Near North Side neighborhoods are driving the rise in cases, officials said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday that Lincoln Park, Old Town and Portage Park on the Northwest Side are recording more new COVID-19 cases among young adults.
Lincoln Park’s 60614 zip code logged 124 new coronavirus cases last week, up 63 percent from the week before, according to city health data. And about 3.6 percent of people tested in the community last week were positive, up from 2.3 percent the week before.
Both Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said the rise in cases is most stark among young adults.
“The bottom line here is we’re seeing a very disturbing trend that could significantly impact our ability to move forward with reopening,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot urged young adults to stay away from bar crawls and holding mass events to slow the spread of coronavirus in the areas and stop the “concerning trend.”
It’s not the first time that young adults aged 18 to 29 were driving a surge in the Lincoln Park area. The neighborhood previously saw cases rise among the demographic last fall as young adults flocked to bars or traveled, officials said at the time.
But the neighborhood’s latest spike in cases has city health officials concerned young adults might spread the virus to more vulnerable populations, Arwady said.
“If there’s one thing I want you to hear about the surge is we’re worried about the 18- to 29-year-olds,” Arwady said during the city’s Department of Health and Human Services meeting. “Not in terms of their severe outcomes, but this is a pattern we’ve seen not just in Chicago … where cases can start in younger people [but spread] to people with underlying conditions or those at a higher risk.”
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), whose ward includes the Lincoln Park area where cases are spiking, said she’s at a loss for how to reach younger people in her ward.
“I don’t know what to do to help make the numbers go down,” Smith said. “We have not seen numbers like this since December, and I’m frustrated because the city isn’t really giving me an answer about what to do about it.”
Smith asked for the city to open mass vaccination sites at areas where young people frequent once all young adults are eligible to receive the vaccine.
“I hope to god you have something at Wrigley Field or some place that young people will go to because they won’t call their regular doctor. They don’t have one,” Smith said.
Officials have announced that Wrigley Field was being considered for a mass vaccination site akin to the one set up at the United Center, but additional details are still being worked out.
Arwady agreed, and said the city could roll out vaccination events at college campuses and bars to help reach younger people when their vaccination group is up.
“We’re already in conversations with some of the universities about what that could look like, and I think the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is going to be a great vaccine for that group,” Arwady said. “It’s a completely different challenge reaching younger people.”
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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