As organizers prepare for a busy weekend in Chicago's Northalsted neighborhood with the return of the Market Days Festival, safety remains a major focus as the coronavirus pandemic persists.
"We’re really excited about this weekend," said Mark Liberson, the festival chairperson. "We put a lot of precautions into place to make sure we’re communicating a message of safety for the people who are in attendance."
The three-day street festival is one of the largest in the country with nearly 100,000 people expected to attend. It was canceled last year because of the pandemic.
"We’re really just wanting people to celebrate safely our community coming together again," he said.
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Proof of vaccination is not required to get into the festival stretching from Addison to Belmont on Halsted, but Liberson said people who haven’t done so can get tested or vaccinated at the festival. Those not vaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask and social distance.
"As people are entering, we’re going to be celebrating vaccination pride here at the event," he said. "We’re going to be giving out stickers for people who present their identification cards showing that they’re vaccinated or other proof of vaccination."
Many bars and restaurants in Northhalsted are already turning to vaccination-only services.
As of Thursday, COVID-19 cases in Chicago are up 39% since last week, averaging about 270 new cases per day. Hospitalizations are also up 47% and deaths up 44% over last week, while the positivity rate sits at 3.6% - all metrics that have been climbing since late June.
The festival is slated to kick off just days after Lollapalooza, the city's largest music festival, which drew roughly 100,000 people to Grant Park each day from July 29 to Aug. 1. Lollapalooza required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter but some infectious disease experts warned that the festival could exacerbate the already-rising coronavirus metrics.
Market Days organizers hope people attending will do the right thing, from masking up to getting vaccinated.
"We hope that the people who are coming will be vaccinated. We hope that if they’re not vaccinated that they will be testing prior to entry, and we're hoping that people will be celebrating each other and be part of this great community in the city of Chicago."
The Northalsted Business Alliance added an additional day to the street fest this year, with Market Days anticipated to run Aug. 6 to 8 for the first time in its 38 year history.
Major acts such like Trixie Mattel, Todrick Hall and Greyston Chance are set to perform at the festival.
Other artists in the lineup include Lisa Lisa, Jody Watley, CeCe Peniston and Steve Grand, as well as disc jockeys like Alex Acosta and Nina Flowers.
The weekend-long event is expected to run half a mile on five stages and over 250 vendors featuring arts, crafts, food and drinks, among other areas, according to a release.
The festival asks for a $15 recommended donation entry fee, which supports the festival entertainment cost, local charities, programming and maintenance in the community, organizers said.