Even as coronavirus cases continue to rise, Chicago health officials say they have no plans to shut down the city again, saying that new mask recommendations and continued emphasis on vaccinations will be key to tamping down an uptick in new cases being driven by the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.
Both Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, echoed the same sentiments during a press conference Sunday: the city will remain open, while remaining careful.
“In Chicago, we can be open and be careful,” Arwady said. “We have no current plans to shut down Chicago again.”
“We can be open by also being careful,” Lightfoot later added.
According to officials, Chicago has passed a key threshold in terms of new daily COVID cases, averaging more than 200 new cases of the virus per day. Even still, those numbers are far below what the city saw in previous surges of the virus, and hospitalizations, while increasing, are also staying at a “low transmission” level, with an average of eight new admissions per day, according to Arwady.
As a result, officials say that they have no plans to install more regulations and mitigations against COVID, and are instead leaning on new CDC guidance that residents in areas of “substantial” or “high” transmission of COVID wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.
“Being careful means getting vaccinated. When you get vaccinated, first and foremost you are protecting yourself,” Arwady said. “When our numbers are higher, you put on a mask. When you put on a mask, you predominately are protecting others. These two things working together help us to be careful as a city, and to stay open.”
Arwady says that the new mask guidance is not a “forever” thing, and that she knows it feels like a step backward to wear masks again after mandates were lifted, but that it is the right thing to do to protect children and other unvaccinated individuals.
“I know it’s hard, especially for people who are vaccinated, to feel like they have to put a mask on. It feels like we’re taking a step backwards, but when you do that, you help protect people who have not yet been vaccinated,” she said. “It is not forever that we are making this mask recommendation for. It helps protect you, your family, and all of Chicago.”
Lightfoot continued to push for individuals to get vaccinated, saying that it is the surest path toward a return to normalcy in the city.
“This is entirely preventable,” she said. “We have the tools we need. We need people to mask up and vaccinate. As we’ve seen, not only in Chicago but across the world and across the country, the delta variant is real. It is vicious, and attacks those who are not vaccinated.”
Officials are urging residents to set up at-home appointments for COVID vaccines, which are free and available to all residents who are eligible to receive the treatment.