Chicago's mayor and top doctor warned Wednesday that the Thanksgiving holiday could become a "super spreading event" in the deadly coronavirus pandemic, pleading again with residents to forego gatherings.
"Let me put this as bluntly as I can: We are extremely concerned about Thanksgiving weekend becoming a super spreading event," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
"Despite the ongoing warnings from responsible leaders across the country, about 50 million Americans are still expected to travel this weekend," she continued. "That is why we need to double down on our precautions in order to prevent a continued rise in cases, hospitalizations and unfortunately deaths, all of which we continue to see an uptick in."
"I'm urging you not to engage in your normal Thanksgiving plans, to keep it limited to your immediate household," Lightfoot said, noting that Chicago is projected to see an additional 1,000 coronavirus deaths by the end of the year.
She added that the projected death toll, while a "sobering reminder and figure," doesn't fully illustrate a holiday-related surge's impact on the health care system and its workers, both already strained, or the long-term effects COVID-19 survivors have reported.
"What we are hearing here and around the world is survivors who've been experiencing ongoing challenges ranging from continued trouble breathing, fatigue, migraines, pain and numbness, dizziness, tremors, blurred vision, memory loss and continued loss of smell and taste, and more which scientists and health officials are still working to understand," Lightfoot said. "That is why we are asking every Chicagoan to avoid travel and avoid visiting someone else's home this Thanksgiving holiday and weekend."
"Please only celebrate Thanksgiving with those in your immediate household or remotely over the internet," she continued, adding that she had expected to celebrate with her 92-year-old mother and other family members but made the choice to celebrate apart.
"It is the best way for us to protect each other and celebrate future Thanksgivings together," Lightfoot said. "It is truly a sacrifice for sure but in my mind it's an expression of love."
Lightfoot noted that a stay-at-home advisory remains in place for Chicago, asking that residents stay home unless leaving is necessary, like for grocery shopping or work.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady shared a graph showing a dramatic spike in cases in Canada after the nation's Thanksgiving celebration on Oct. 12.
"After the Canadian Thanksgiving, unfortunately Canada saw a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases and let me tell you the U.S. rates of cases right now are much worse than Canada's was and our potential for a surge is much greater," Arwady said. "So it's not too late to change plans you might have, even for tomorrow. Anything that we can do as a city to limit this risk here is a win for you, your family and Chicago."
Arwady said the latest data indicates that as many one in every 17 Chicagoans has an active and infectious coronavirus case as of Wednesday, saying that figure meant the city "is at a point where it is not safe to gather."
Chicago is averaging nearly 2,000 new coronavirus cases a day - more than one diagnosed every minute - which is six times the rate in September and 10 times what the city was seeing in June, Arwady said.
Some parts of the city, particularly the Northwest, the Southwest and the Far Southeast sides, are hardest-hit in terms of coronavirus cases, with some ZIP codes seeing positivity rates between 17 and 26%, she added, noting that while some areas had higher positivity rates than others, every part of the city, every ZIP code, every age group and every ethnicity group was part of the surge.
"We have not seen any slowing in our hospitalizations and that's to be expected because unfortunately hospitalizations lag behind cases, ICU admissions lag behind hospitalizations and then deaths lag behind that," Arwady said.
The more than 1,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, plus 300 more in ICU beds, are both up four times since early October, she said, adding that even if this surge ended right now - excluding a Thanksgiving wave - deaths would not peak for several weeks.
"You may have seen the meme that's been going around Facebook that I think has a lot of truth to it: 'It's better to have a Zoom Thanksgiving than an ICU Christmas,'" Arwady said.
"It's true and I want you to think about that as you're making your decisions not just for Thursday but for Black Friday, for the weekend that comes and during the whole time that Chicago remains under that stay-at-home advisory, which does take us right now through the middle of December," she said.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike on Monday issued a similar warning that if any residents were still planning to take part in a Thanksgiving gathering, it's not too late to change your mind.
"We don’t have to have 'super spreader' events at homes throughout our state and throughout the country and bring it back," Ezike said. "Please reconsider your plans and be part of the solution to decrease infections, instead of part of the plan to increase them."
In line with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people are advised to celebrate virtually or only with members of their own household. For those who want to visit with other family members or friends, it's recommended you quarantine for 14 days prior to a gathering.
“Let's lessen the burden on all of our hospital teams, and we can do this by not spreading infection over this Thanksgiving holiday by wearing our mask, by watching our distance, by washing our hands and by getting our flu shots,” Ezike said.