Despite a growing concern over a strain of coronavirus that has infected nine people in the U.S., thousands of people attended the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in Chicago.
The annual event features marching bands, colorful floats, and traditional lion and dragon dances along Wentworth Avenue.
Many parade attendees were wearing masks, but the vast majority enjoyed the sunshine and colorful show without face protection, which has become ubiquitous amid concerns over the spread of the virus.
“I am very surprised actually that more people are not wearing masks,” said Patrick Lang, who was wearing a hospital grade respirator during the event.
Lang, who is also a doctor, says he thinks more people should be aware of the risks of Coronavirus.
“For a respiratory virus like this, I think it’s avoiding large groups of people, especially close contact, like we’re doing now. If we are in large groups, (it's all about) having proper precautions,” said Lang.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward) were among the dignitaries marching in the parade. Both acknowledged concerns regarding the Coronavirus but encouraging the general public to know that the risk of contracting the virus is low.
“Chinatown as you can see remains open for business, and we should support the local businesses both here and in other parts of the city,” said Mayor Lightfoot. "I don’t think there’s any reason for people to wear masks, but obviously people have to make their own decisions about that. That’s certainly not official city of Chicago policy. As you can see, I’m not wearing a mask, and I won’t be because I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Officials estimate 18,000 people attended the parade on Sunday to welcome the Year of the Rat, with many hopeful for good health and fortune. However, some parade-goers said turnout felt low amid calls to cancel the event because of the virus.
“I don’t think the concerns are all that valid,” said Stuart Hong, who grew up in Chinatown and watched the parade Sunday with his daughter. “It’s a fresh start, and the parade to me just reminds me of what I grew up here. It's fun to come back."
As of Sunday, there are nine confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, including two in Illinois. The other cases have been confirmed in Arizona, Washington state, Massachusetts and California.
The virus has infected at least 14,000 people since it was first detected in central China in late December.
“I’m not really afraid of it,” said Hoi Kianna Luung who is visiting Chicago from Miami with her boyfriend, Carlos Valencia.
“I thought we’d see more people with masks from the airport to here, but it doesn’t seem like it’s that much on people’s minds,” said Valencia, another parade-goer. “Just keep our hands sanitized and stay away from people coughing and what not.”
Ahead of the parade, Mayor Lightfoot held a news conference to address concerns over the Coronavirus, saying the city continues to closely monitor the situation. She says officials are executing a proactive, coordinated response that includes additional screening at O’Hare international airport as well as establishing supportive housing and services for affected travelers.
The mayor says the city is in a good place, but there are still questions that need to be answered from the federal government.
“We want to make sure that the federal government is giving clear, consistent guidance, and that they are also stepping up to handle their responsibility for this," she said. "We’re on the front lines. We are going to do what we need to do to make sure that people are safe, but we need the federal government to shoulder their responsibility and their burden as well.”
The United States declared a public health emergency on Friday.