A prominent Chicago infectious diseases expert is warning that "lots of people" will contract COVID-19 at Lollapalooza this weekend, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot dismissed criticisms as coming from "critics on the sidelines," and says that her health team says it is safe to proceed with the festival.
Dr. Emily Landon, executive medical director for infection prevention and control at the University of Chicago Medical Center, says that the event is a “spreader” event, and that she fears individuals who become infected with COVID, vaccinated or not, could start “wildfires of infection” across the United States.
“I think a lot of people are going to get COVID at Lollapalooza,” she said. “The real problem is not so much that a bunch of young people who come into Chicago getting COVID at this event. The real problem is them taking it back to places that have very low vaccination rates.
Lollapalooza will take place at full capacity this weekend, with attendees required to either be fully vaccinated against COVID or to have proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event.
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Landon says that the 72-hour parameter is too lenient, and that the city is risking a massive spike in cases by allowing the event to move forward as planned.
“Lolla has let us down with respect to how vigorously they’re restricting people based on the things that they sort of initially told us (about how) ‘we’re going to be really strict’ and now it’s like they’ve lightened up quite considerably on checking vaccines and negative tests,” she said.
Lightfoot disagreed with Landon’s assessment of the situation, calling the physician a “critic standing on the sideline” and saying that she trusts the medical team put together by the city and festival organizers.
“God bless the critics standing on the sidelines, but I feel confident that the Lolla folks have a good, solid plan in place, and we’re obviously going to hold them accountable to make sure that the plan is enforced,” she said.
Landon, who has appeared at events with Lightfoot during the COVID pandemic, says that she hasn’t spoken to city or state officials in “weeks,” and says that small changes to Lollapalooza could have made it safer, even amid the COVID pandemic.
“I honestly think vaccinated individuals are still at pretty low risk, and even if they do get COVID they’re not likely to have (symptomatic cases). If all of this were to happen with fully vaccinated individuals and very few individuals that were unvaccinated but had tested negative, that and slightly lower capacity, this would be a fine event to have, even in the midst of delta increasing,” she said.
Landon argues that the delta COVID variant has been shown to spread between individuals even in outdoor spaces, something that the original strain of COVID wasn’t able to do. Lightfoot disagrees with that assessment as well, saying that Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady and other experts have vouched for the safety of the Lollapalooza health protocols.
“It’s outdoors. We’ve been having large-scale events all over the city since June without major problems or issues,” she said. “The Lolla team has been phenomenal. They’ve hired their own public health experts who’ve been working hand in glove with us since we started these discussions.”