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Lightfoot Defends Lolla Amid Increasing Criticism — And Urges Chicagoans To Get Vaccinated

Mayor Lightfoot said the city can safely reopen due to the vaccines. Only about half of Chicagoans are fully vaccinated.

A large crowd of mostly maskless fans pack the park near T-Mobile to see Megan Thee Stallion perform during the third day of Lollapalooza at Grant Park on July 31, 2021 amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Chicago.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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DOWNTOWN — Mayor Lori Lightfoot again defended her decision to host Lollapalooza, the world’s biggest festival this year, during a news conference Sunday.

The mayor has faced increasing scrutiny for allowing the festival to be held. It typically attracts 100,000 people per day, fueling concerns it could turn into a super-spreader event as the Delta variant surges around the United States.

Chicago’s case rate and positivity rate have been on the rise, and Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the health department, said last week she does expect to see COVID-19 cases associated with Lolla.

Photos of the massive, tightly packed crowds at the festival, on the CTA and around the Downtown area have been widely shared online.

Lightfoot sought to allay people’s concerns during a Sunday news conference, saying she remains confident in Lolla’s precautionary measures.

The mayor said street festivals have been held and baseball games played at Sox Park and Wrigley Field without them turning into super-spreader events.

Those events are significantly smaller than Lollapalooza, though. For example, Sox Park reaches capacity at about 40,600 people, while Megan thee Stallion said in an Instagram post her Saturday set at Lollapalooza had a crowd of 180,000.

“I understand the fascination with Lolla, but the fact is, in this city, … we’ve been able to open but do it with care because of the vaccinations,” Lightfoot said.

Only about 52 percent of all Chicagoans are fully vaccinated, according to city data.

And many have shared photos of “L” trains jampacked with maskless people during Lollapalooza, spurring concerns those riders are increasing the risk of transmission because they’re indoors — and putting CTA workers at risk.

“Do not get on public transportation in this city without a mask. Do not,” Lightfoot said. “And we are looking at conversations with the CTA to look at enforcement. I do not want people getting on public transportation … without wearing a mask. It’s not wise.”

The festival is requiring attendees to show proof they’re fully vaccinated or to show they had a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of attending. People who aren’t fully vaccinated must wear masks, though it’s not clear how that’s being enforced.

Notably, a Dutch music festival now linked to 1,000 coronavirus cases had even stricter requirements: proof of vaccination or a negative test within 40 hours of festival attendance.

Dr. Emily Landon, who’s regularly been called upon by the city and state to speak at coronavirus news conferences, told NBC the festival should likely be canceled or have stiffer safety restrictions.

Lightfoot emphasized the vast majority of people attending Lollapalooza have shown proof they’re fully vaccinated, according to the festival, while the COVID-19 variant is hitting unvaccinated communities the hardest.

Lightfoot and Arwady said 97 percent of Chicagoans who have been hospitalized with or died from COVID-19 since January were not fully vaccinated.

“The unvaccinated are the people who are at risk” as Delta spreads, Lightfoot said. “They’re not only putting themselves at risk; they’re putting their family at risk.”

Vaccination rates have lagged in Black and Latino communities and on the South and West sides.

Lightfoot urged people in those communities to get their shots so they can be best protected against Delta.

The city is now recommending everyone wear masks when indoors in public because Chicago is seeing a substantial amount of community transmission.

Hospitalizations for and deaths from COVID-19 remain low in Chicago.

But Arwady said she does expect to see those numbers go up as cases do due to Delta.

The Washington Post obtained internal CDC documents that say the Delta variant is as infectious as chickenpox, which is highly contagious, and is even more contagious than the common cold, flu and Ebola.

New evidence also shows the variant can even be easily spread by fully vaccinated people, according to the CDC documents. That’s different from past variants, as vaccinated people who had those did not appear to spread the virus as easily.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told The New York Times on Friday that new research shows even people who are fully vaccinated have tremendous amounts of the virus in their nose and throat.

And the internal CDC documents also highlighted studies from Canada, Singapore and Scotland that suggest the Delta variant may increase the risk of someone needing to be hospitalized or dying, according to the Washington Post.

Still, breakthrough cases remain rare, and the vaccines being used in the United States remain effective at preventing serious illness and death.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.

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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