‘Dear God, Stay Home’: Chicago Closes The Lakefront And Threatens COVID-19 Crackdown

People run along the Lakefront Trail in Chicago
People exercise along the Lakefront Trail at North Beach on March 25. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
People run along the Lakefront Trail in Chicago
People exercise along the Lakefront Trail at North Beach on March 25. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

‘Dear God, Stay Home’: Chicago Closes The Lakefront And Threatens COVID-19 Crackdown

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Chicago could see 40,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations that would “break the back of our health care system” in the coming weeks if residents don’t take a statewide stay-at-home order more seriously, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday afternoon.

On that note, the mayor also announced she was closing Chicago’s lakefront “from north to south, and from south to north.” She also closed down the Riverwalk and The 606 trail to slow the spread of coronavirus.

A visibly angry Lightfoot also pounded the lectern at her midday press conference when she said groups of people – sometimes more than 100 – had been gathering at the lakefront, despite Gov. JB Pritzker’s order.

“Your conduct – yours – is posing a direct threat to our public health,” Lightfoot said. “Without question, your continued failure to abide by these life-saving orders will erase any progress that we have made over the past week in slowing the spread of this disease, and could lead to more deaths.”

The mayor also said City Hall would be starting a new marketing campaign – called “Stay Home, Save Lives” – to urge residents to obey the state’s stay-at-home order, otherwise Chicago would see the sort of surge in COVID-19 cases that have overwhelmed other major cities.

“If you don’t act responsibly and stay at home like you have been ordered to do, we will be headed for a situation like we’re seeing play out catastrophically every day in New York,” Lightfoot said. “This will push our city to the brink.”

“Dear God, stay home. Save lives,” the mayor said.

Meanwhile, Interim Chicago Police Superintendent Charlie Beck said cops have issued “at least one” citation that ended in an arrest, and added police wouldn’t hesitate to slap violators with $500 fines or arrest if they don’t comply.

And the city’s public health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, also said City Hall is exploring how it might use the giant McCormick Place convention center to treat a surge of COVID-19 patients.

“We were looking out what it would take, not in a theoretical way, but in an actual way to lay out potentially thousands of beds in the conference center that is the symbol of, you know, our city’s great tourism and potential,” Arwady said.

Read more: All of WBEZ’s coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak in Chicago and the region.

Earlier in the day, Ald. Harry Osterman, 48th Ward, sent an update to his constituents announcing the Lakefront Trail, and the nearby park and beaches, were closed starting Thursday morning to ensure social distancing and help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th Ward, said aldermen were also briefed on new projections of coronavirus cases in the Chicago area.

“We’re on the same trajectory as New York City,” Hadden said. “We can’t have people out in groups, enjoying the nice weather, as unpleasant and uncomfortable and inconvenient as that is, we will only flatten our curve, and only control the spread of the virus, if people absolutely stay home.”

In an email to constituents Thursday morning, Ald. James Cappleman, 46th Ward, confirmed the beachfront closures and added that “all fieldhouses, all playlots, all school playgrounds” are also closed.

“These steps were taken to further limit COVID-19 infections due to projection rates that if this stricter stay-in-place order did not occur, we would have upwards of 40,000 residents requiring a hospitalization,” Cappleman wrote. “This would decimate our healthcare system, leading to many deaths.”

The action comes after a nearly 60-degree sunny day Wednesday brought people out to the city’s parks and Lakefront in large numbers. The mayor warned Chicagoans to stop those gatherings yesterday and gave authority to the police to issue citations up to $500. Wednesday evening, police cleared the lakefront and shut down the path from Fullerton Avenue to Navy Pier.

Meanwhile, hordes of people ran on The 606 Wednesday afternoon. By Thursday morning, a new sign was posted near the trail’s entrances that encouraged social distancing.

Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, who represents parts of The 606, said the popular running path would also be affected by the mayor’s new order. He said police will likely use cars and bikes to disperse people. He added that the city is considering putting up signs in all parks directing people to stay at home.

Becky Vevea covers city of Chicago politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.