A Chicago alderman on Tuesday proposed a unique incentive to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19: allowing blocks in which the majority of residents have been vaccinated to once again hold block parties this summer.
Ald. Raymond Lopez, who represents the 15th Ward on the city's Southwest Side, floated the proposal with an informal poll on Twitter Tuesday evening.
"Chicago needs block-level encouragement to get #BeyondCovid!" he wrote. "If your block gets 75% vaccinated or better by Memorial Day, you are allowed to have a resident-only block party in 2021!"
The tweet included two options for respondents to pick between: "Heck yeah, let's do this!" and "Pass, I don't party."
Lopez said Wednesday that the idea was something he wanted to try to pursue with health officials and the Chicago Department of Transportation, which issues permits for block parties after they've been requested through their ward's aldermanic office.
"If we are to try to resume some normalcy, then we have to help people get past their fears of vaccinating and show that the sooner we get vaccinated, the sooner we're able to come out of our homes, the sooner we're able to do the things we miss," Lopez said, calling the proposal a "carrot versus a stick" to be used to motivate residents to get vaccinated.
Lopez said he previously mentioned the idea in a meeting with the Chicago Department of Public Health and Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office and that he intends "to fully pursue it to make it a reality for Chicago."
"I'm hopeful that we can have a policy discussion between the Department of Public Health and the Department of Transportation," he said, but noted that he could introduce it as an order to "force their hand."
Lightfoot's office did not immediately respond to request for comment on Lopez's idea, while a spokesman for CDOT said he would explore if the department was aware of it.
In a typical year, Lopez said wards like his may have between 75 and 100 block parties a season, running between Memorial Day and Labor Day. As the coronavirus pandemic hit Chicago last spring, officials ultimately announced that no permits would be granted for any block parties or other events until further notice as the city issued restrictions on businesses, gathering sizes and more to slow the spread of the contagious and deadly virus.
Lopez said residents of his ward "miss block parties" and that his proposal could also serve as a way to bring the vaccination campaign to a hyperlocal level, floating the idea of getting block club presidents, neighborhood associations and others to serve as "captains" to help their neighbors get vaccinated in a coordinated effort that would culminate in a block party.
Chicago officials said last week that the city is still not currently planning or permitting events, but there was a possibility of some events returning later this year if COVID-19 metrics continue to improve - and that city departments had been instructed to prepare for that possibility.
"While we are not formally planning nor permitting events at this time, our COVID-19 indicators continue to trend in the right direction and we are hopeful that some events that align with health guidelines may be possible later this year," a spokeswoman for Lightfoot's office said in a statement Friday. "As such, Mayor Lightfoot has directed City departments to prepare for the possibility of events this summer and ensure any resources that could be necessary are available."
Lopez said he wanted to start the conversation about block parties sooner rather than later to give residents some certainty on what may be allowed this summer.
"We really need to start having a plan for communities to know if they can have block parties again," he said. Lopez said the decision to not permit events last year was made "down to the wire" - a situation he said he hopes to avoid this year.
"What I don't want is confusion in the neighborhoods," he said. Lopez also noted that he wanted to implement this idea solely for the 2021 season, not as a requirement beyond this year.
While vaccinations have increased in recent days, officials have repeatedly asked for patience, citing low supply from the federal government as some residents who are eligible to get vaccinated in the current Phase 1B have expressed frustration that they are unable to find an appointment.
President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. will have enough doses of the three vaccines federally approved for emergency use by the end of May - though Lopez said his proposal wouldn't necessarily be stymied by that timeline or concerns about low supply.
"First and foremost, I can't imagine all of Chicago is going to want to have a block party on Memorial Day," Lopez said. "This is for the entirety of the season. We can start planning ahead for the rest of summer."
When asked about the legal and privacy implications surrounding disclosure of vaccination status, Lopez said the policy would be voluntary and that he hoped to work out the details with city agencies.
"I can neither compel you to get vaccinate nor compel you to say if you are or aren't, but I think there are ways for us to figure this out that are both legal and beneficial," he said. "This is voluntary, it's not forcing anything on anybody, but if blocks want to come together and show that they've been vaccinated and we can work out the logistics then let's start having those conversations."
"We're seeing a lot of effort trying to open up restaurants and I think this is our model showing that if you are willing to get vaccinated, then there should be some benefit to you like block parties," Lopez said. "We have to start showing people that getting vaccinated means getting back to doing things outside."
Lopez said he planned to follow up with CDOT, CDPH and the city's law department on the idea once he sees the results of his four-day Twitter poll.