Crowds of people can be seen packed into Grant Park Thursday, creating mosh pits and dancing huddled together, for the first day of Lollapalooza, Chicago's largest music festival.
The crowds in Grant Park are set to last through the weekend, requiring concert-goers to use new health protocols amid concern over a continued rise in COVID cases.
The city's largest music festival is being held at full capacity from July 29 to Aug. 1. It comes at a time when the city is seeing its average daily number of new cases more than double in a matter of weeks.
Still, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city's top doctor both doubled down on their support of the event during a coronavirus update last week.
"As you know from the time that it was first announced, we were really pleased to partner with Lollapalooza with their decision to require vaccination or negative tests for attendees and that certainly adds a level of complexity to the situation, but we want people to have a good time and we want this to be as safe as it can be," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. "And so certainly we'll be watching that just as we do any other gathering, but I am more concerned about the many people who have not chosen the COVID vaccine."
When asked if she regretted allowing the major outdoor music festival to go on, Lightfoot, who used the press conference to warn residents about the potential for heightened mitigations if metrics continue to spike, said no.
"I think we made the best decision that we could as always, based upon the data and based upon our projections and modeling," she said. "We felt very comfortable on June 11, which was the date, fully opening up the city. We had been working towards that point, looking at trends in the data. So no, I feel like we made the right decisions, but we're sounding the alarm today because we're starting to see this uptick."
To enter Lollapalooza, concert-goers must provide a printed copy of the COVID vaccine card, vaccine record or negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of entering.
For those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, a mask is required while inside the festival at all times.
"You need to make sure that you are bringing your proof of vaccination, or your proof of a negative test," Arwady said. "Reminder actually from the FBI on this that if you make or buy a fake COVID-19 vaccination record card, you are not only endangering yourself and those around you, but you are breaking the law, and there have been investigations into situations where we've seen some of that. So we're looking forward to Lollapalooza, the great majority of folks who are coming, we expect are vaccinated, and we're doing everything we can to make this as safe as we can, but if you are not vaccinated you also need to wear a mask in that setting."
If a person tests positive for COVID within 72 hours of the festival, organizers said the individual is allowed a refund by sending the order number and ticket details to email@example.com.
But University of Chicago epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon warned earlier this week that "a lot of people" are going to contract COVID at the festival.
“I think a lot of people are going to get COVID at Lollapalooza,” she said in an interview. “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."
“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 continued.
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.
Lollapalooza's lineup for the 2021 festival in Chicago's Grant Park this summer includes headliners like the Foo Fighters, Post Malone, Tyler the Creator and Miley Cyrus.
Chicago's average daily number of new cases was up to 185 per day early Monday - a 62% increase over last week.
The city's average daily case rate was at 90 per day last week and 41 per day the week before that, meaning it's more than quadrupled in a little over three weeks - though it is still significantly lower than the more than 700 cases per day the city was seeing earlier this year and last, before vaccines were widely available.
Hospitalizations in Chicago are up 10% from last week, though deaths are down 33%, while the positivity rate in testing is up to 2.9% as of Thursday, up from 2.2% Monday, 1.5% last week and 1% the week before.
Arwady noted that she expects the delta variant will be the dominant variant in Chicago by next month "for sure."
Public health officials in Chicago and around the world have warned about the more transmissible delta variant, urging those who have not yet gotten vaccinated to do so.
"We can't allow it to spread further or faster than it already has," Lightfoot said. "And it already has incredible momentum. If we don't stall this, we'll have to wait that much longer to be able to formally turn the page on COVID-19 and put this pit pandemic in the past, in the rearview mirror."
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that he plans to attend Lollapalooza, saying it is "safe" for those vaccinated against COVID-19.
"I intend to go to Lollapalooza. I'm bringing my wife and a few friends to Lollapalooza," Pritzker said in a news conference Thursday.
He added that outdoor festivals are known to be safer than those indoors in terms of spreading COVID-19, but that he still recommends people wear a mask if with a large group.
"If you feel comfortable and you can put a little distance between yourself and other people and if you're vaccinated, I might add, it's safer," Pritzker said. "Little distance and vaccinated, it's safe for you to attend something like this."