A city order, threats of a $500 fine, and a roped-off Bean sculpture didn’t stop tourists from traveling to Chicago to spend an afternoon at Millennium Park Wednesday.
It took WBEZ less than an hour at the downtown park to find around 10 people who said they were either blatantly ignoring or completely unaware of a travel order that’s meant to force travelers from certain states to quarantine for 14 days before hitting the Chicago streets.
The tourists came from Kansas, Arizona and Wisconsin, three of the 22 states listed on the city order. States are added once they start seeing an average of more than 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people a day. Tourists who come from those states, or Chicagoans who visit them and come back, are supposed to quarantine for two weeks, the city says.
“With work and everything, [a] two week quarantine just really isn’t an option,” said a Kansas native who didn’t want WBEZ to use his name, since the city is threatening to fine people up to $500 each day they break the quarantine rule.
“We had this trip planned long before all of this stuff, so we weren’t going to back out of it just because of an order that’s unenforceable,” he said.
The Kansas native, and the three friends he was with, were staying in Chicago for a couple days. On Wednesday, they got Lou Malnatis for lunch, planned to go to Wrigleyville in the evening and the Museum of Science and Industry the next day.
The order also applies to tourists taking day trips, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. That’s despite some potentially confusing language included in the order, which says it doesn’t apply to people traveling to or from a hot-spot state for less than 24 hours.
But the intent of that language was to make an exemption for people traveling through Chicago en route to another destination, a CDPH spokesperson said.
People required to quarantine are being informed by airlines, by signage along highways and at airports, city officials said, though some visitors said they didn’t see any signs.
Another group of friends, who didn’t want WBEZ to use their names for fear of being fined, drove from Wisconsin for a day trip (also featuring a Lou Malnati’s lunch).
“We’re not trying to hurt anyone by being here,” one said, pointing out the fact they were all wearing masks.
“I didn’t know anything about [the quarantine order], or that Wisconsin was a banned state,” another said. “I’m kind of surprised, but I don’t know how they would enforce it, so it doesn’t really mean that much to me.”
The city is asking Chicagoans and tourists to follow the order or be fined $100 to $500 a day, though its success seems to be based largely on the honor system. The city has said it will not be dedicating significant resources to enforce it, as other states are doing.
“We are relying on the public to adhere to the order and, similar to public health guidance on masking and social distancing, to help protect the progress we’ve made in Chicago over the past few months,” CDPH spokesperson Andrew Buchanan said in a statement.
In Hawaii, travelers are required to sign a form and provide information about the hotel they are staying at. Rental car companies there are banned from renting cars to people from travel-order states. On the east coast, some police departments are stopping cars with out-of-state plates.
Other states are allowing travelers to forego quarantine if they have proof of a recent negative coronavirus test result, but CDPH said that will not be the case here, as a negative test result is a snapshot in time and can change day-by-day.
Two other friends, Logan from Arizona and Kat from Wisconsin, drove from Wisconsin for a day trip, and said while they are taking the pandemic seriously, the quarantine order doesn’t mean much to them.
They said as states have re-opened and re-closed across the country and guidelines are ever-changing, it’s been hard to trust that public officials are making orders that are truly useful in combating the virus, and not political. But they reiterated they were trying to stay safe while visiting the city.
“We wear a mask when we’re out, wash our hands constantly, hand sanitizer, and we’re keeping our distance from other people,” Logan said. “I’m just rolling with it — it’s a weird time we’re living in.”
You can visit the city’s website about the travel order for more information.
Mariah Woelfel is a general assignment reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.