CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended city plans to host a massive fireworks display for New Year’s Eve as COVID-19 surges in the city.
Chicago will put on its biggest-ever fireworks display — a 1.5-mile-long show along the lakefront and Chicago River — for the holiday, the Mayor’s Office announced earlier this week. The show will be broadcast on WGN, but organizers have also partnered with local businesses for food, drink and entertainment, and there will be in-person viewing options.
“Event partners are located in close proximity to the display launch points, offering guests beautiful views and plenty of entertainment options,” the Mayor’s Office announced in a news release. “Visitors and locals alike are encouraged to eat, drink and be merry at a variety of partner venues and events.”
That’s led to criticism from some since Chicago is seeing its worst-ever COVID-19 surge, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths up and still climbing. Some officials have said they’re worried about health care workers and systems being overwhelmed, and the city will require some businesses to check patrons’ vaccination cards beginning Monday in a bid to slow the virus’s spread and get people vaccinated.
Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, urged anyone who is sick to stay home, even if they think they just have a cold or flu. They’ve also said people should get vaccinated, boosted and tested before gathering indoors with others, and gatherings should be kept small.
But critics are concerned the fireworks display and partnerships with businesses will lead to people gathering Downtown to view the show, potentially putting people at risk for spreading COVID-19.
Some people are going to go out and gather regardless of the pandemic, Lightfoot and Arwady said, adding that they’re trying to emphasize that people should be safe.
“What I’m saying is, you gotta be smart,” Lightfoot said. “I’m not gonna be the mom and tell people what they should and shouldn’t do … .
“… All the things that we know have worked and served us well, you gotta do those things and multiply it. … Masking, vaccinations, social distancing, washing your hands, being careful about who you’re associating with and for how long — all those things matter in this time.”
The fireworks event is outdoors, and officials made a “conscious decision” to ensure the display will be spread out so there won’t be “massive crowds gathering one place,” Lightfoot said. The event would have been canceled were it indoors, she said.
And “clearly” people who go Downtown for the show should social distance, wear a mask and take other precautions, Lightfoot said.
But the “reality is” if people don’t take the virus seriously, “we are gonna see circumstances where there’s spread,” Lightfoot said. “That’s why people have to make the decision that’s in their best interest … .”
For many, that will mean staying home, Lightfoot said. She plans to watch the show on WGN from home, she said.
“But if you are coming Downtown, be smart, be safe, follow the public health guidance,” Lightfoot said. At another point, she said, “We have to manage through this surge, and the best things we can do is get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask and make sure we’re social distancing.”
Arwady also said she expects some people will gather for the holidays regardless of guidance.
“I would much rather have people outside than inside if they are going to be gathering,” she said.
Arwady said offering people a chance to watch the show on TV could also incentivize some people to stay home.
Arwady’s and Lightfoot’s tips for a safer New Year’s Eve:
- Stay home if possible.
- If you’re going to gather indoors with people, only do so if people are vaccinated, boosted and have gotten a recent negative COVID-19 test.
- Keep gatherings small.
- Wear a mask around other people. You can add to your protection by wearing a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask and using masks like KN95s and KN94s, Arwady said.Social distance.
- Don’t travel if you’re not vaccinated.
- If you’re sick, stay home and isolate.
- If you get a test but don’t get the results before New Year’s Eve, stay home and assume your test is positive until the results come in.
- If you get a positive COVID-19 test at home, treat it as a positive. You do not need to get another test to “confirm” the result, Arwady said.
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