Chicago has made “excellent progress” to help curb the spread of COVID-19, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday threatened to reimpose restrictions on people and businesses if the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
“Some of you have joked that I’m like the mom who will turn around the car around when you’re acting up,” Lightfoot said during a news conference. “No friends, it’s actually worse. I won’t just turn the car around. I’m going to shut it off. I’m going to kick you out. And I’m going to make you walk home.”
She singled out young people again, telling those ages 18 to 29, “you are not immune to COVID-19.” In the last month, around 30% of new cases come from this age group. That puts those with whom come into close contact, such as their parents or grandparents, at risk of catching and spreading the virus, Lightfoot warned.
“If we continue to see this uptick in cases, we’re going to have no choice but to go back into Phase 3,” Lightfoot said. “That means shutting businesses down. That means putting more restrictions on your mobility.”
Chicago is currently in Phase 4 of a five-phase plan to reopen its economy, which was largely shut down in March to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady on Wednesday ticked off the latest statistics, while encouraging residents and businesses to not be complacent when it comes to COVID-19.
The first thing Arwady said she looks at every day is the average number of newly confirmed cases. Today, it’s around 192 across all ages, races, genders and geography.
“This is our best reflection of the burden of disease,” Arwady said.
In early May when cases in Chicago peaked, the city was adding more than 1,000 new cases a day.
“But we’re a long way from done,” Arwady said.
She cautioned that if the average number of new cases hits 200 — and she does expect additional cases — that puts Chicago back into what she called a “high-incidence state.”
“It does not equal an automatic rollback,” Arwady said.
But if the city sees a lot of cases associated with bars, for example, Chicago leaders might reimpose limits there, the commissioner said. After bars reopened in late June, there were long lines of people waiting to get in, Block Club Chicago reported. Many weren’t wearing masks or staying six feet apart — two key behaviors public health officials recommend to prevent spreading COVID-19.
If the number of cases in Chicago climbs to around 400 a day, Arwady said the city would be on par with states whose residents must quarantine themselves when they arrive in Chicago. And she said that could trigger a return to Phase 3, when City Hall would restrict major activities again.
There are several other metrics public health officials use to guide their decisions about how and when to reopen the economy. The percentage of Chicagoans testing positive for COVID-19, for example, is around 5.3%. (Arwady wants that below 5%). There are fewer people hospitalized or on life-saving ventilators for COVID-19 than at any point since the virus started growing here in March.
There are also fewer deaths per day. During the peak, there were on average nearly 50 patients dying of COVID-19 a day, Arwady said. That’s down to four. There have been a few days with just one death.
“I anticipate likely soon we’ll have our first day, finally, with no COVID-19 deaths here in Chicago,” Arwady said.
Kristen Schorsch covers public health on WBEZ’s government and politics team. Follow her @kschorsch.