Chicago mayor closes some city trails, parks and beaches, and bans contact sports

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot has ordered Chicago’s entire Lakefront Trail, adjacent parks, The 606 trail and Riverwalk closed, the latest sweeping measure taken by the city to curb the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

The closures were effective immediately and applied to trails, bike paths, green spaces, facilities and parks adjacent to the lakefront, Lightfoot said. Chicago police would aggressively be ramping up patrols in these areas and violators would be subject to a warning, ticket and possible arrest if they don’t listen, the mayor said.

“We can’t mess around with this one second longer,” Lightfoot said at an afternoon news conference.

Contact sports such as football, soccer and basketball are also banned under the order, Lightfoot said.

Invoking the current crisis in New York City, Lightfoot sounded the alarm on what she said could be exponential spikes in hospitalizations over the coming weeks without drastic measures.

“We could be expecting upward of 40,000 hospitalizations in the coming weeks,” Lightfoot said, noting it would “break our health care system.”

“That is why, if you don’t act responsibly and stay at home like you have been ordered to do, we are headed for a situation like we are seeing play out catastrophically every day in New York,” Lightfoot said.

On Wednesday, the mayor forewarned the closures could come as she scolded restless Chicagoans who have taken advantage of spring weather and packed local parks, trails and the city’s lakefront despite a growing number of people infected by the coronavirus.

Interim Chicago police Superintendent Charlie Beck reminded citizens that the stay-at-home order applies 24 hours a day, every day — not just after 5 p.m., which is the time Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s initial order took effect on Saturday. Beck said he drove along the lakefront from north to south on Wednesday and was alarmed.

“I saw thousands of people doing things that I personally love to do: walking, running, biking, but in such numbers that it did something I have spent the last four decades of my life trying to prevent,” Beck said. “What I really saw was thousands of people risking their own lives and putting other people’s lives in danger. This is serious business. This is not a game. This is not a time to think about your own physical strength and conditioning over public health. All of us have to make sacrifices.”

Beck said police issued 56 warnings Wednesday, and made at least one citation that resulted in an arrest for a failure to obey a police officer’s order. The incident got so aggravated that an arrest had to be made, Beck said.

Public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady cited the current number of cases in Chicago — 949 — as one of the reasons she’s comfortable with the shutdown.

She said the goal is to make it so that every patient with coronavirus spreads it to less than one person on average, instead of spreading it to two or more.

“We have to get that down so that one person on average is spreading to fewer than one person,” Arwady said.

Arwady said she met members of the Army Corps of Engineers at McCormick Place on Thursday to begin figuring out how to set up thousands of hospital beds there for coronavirus sufferers. The exercise was not done “in a theoretical sense,” Arwady said. The United Center also will transform into a logistics hub for Chicago’s coronavirus response — used for food distribution, first responder staging and collecting medical supplies

At an unrelated news conference, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she had no immediate plans to close the forest preserves, “and there has been no crowding to my knowledge.”

Alderman Michele Smith, 43rd, said she spoke with the mayor Thursday morning.

“Everyone regrets that we have to do this, but these next two weeks are critical to curb the spread of this disease,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, one person’s inadvertent contact, through no intentional fault of their own, is another person’s case of coronavirus.”

Alderman Scott Waguespack, 32nd, whose ward includes a stretch of The 606, said earlier in the day that it would be shut down. “The possibility of transmission increases by 20% when you have lots of people running and walking in close proximity like that, so it’s important we take this step,” said Waguespack, a key Lightfoot City Council ally.

As handfuls of runners tried to enter the Lakefront Trail at Fullerton Parkway on Thursday morning, police officers bellowed at people to turn around.

“Runners, the lakefront is closed,” an officer said, using a microphone to amplify his voice.

The trail was closed off with a barrier, and a police vehicle sat nearby with lights flashing.

“She’s got to do what she’s got to do,” Lori Kloehn said, referring to Lightfoot.

Kloehn, who uses the path nearly every day, steered clear Wednesday after hearing reports of crowds there due to sunny weather. Instead, she tried to go for a walk Thursday but was turned away.

“I refused to go on the path,” she said of the day before.

Leigh Allan also was forced by police to turn back Thursday morning. He heard reports the day before that the mayor was considering closing the trail, but he thought he could get another walk in.

“I was surprised it came this fast,” he said.

Even though they couldn’t access the lakefront, dozens of runners and walkers made their way through the dirt paths in Lincoln Park throughout the morning.

Officials across the country, meanwhile, are desperately trying to curb the virus’s spread. Lawmakers in Washington are considering a $2 trillion aid package to help businesses and citizens who have been devastated by the economic damage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to stifle it.

Schools in Chicago and across the state remain closed, and bars and restaurants are off-limits to dine-in customers. Large gatherings have been prohibited, and last week, Pritzker issued a statewide stay-at-home order requiring people to remain in their homes except for certain exceptions such as going to work or the grocery store. Lightfoot reminded parents that playgrounds are off-limits as well.

“If there are people out there, and unfortunately there are, who are determined to do whatever they want despite orders, these are not recommendations. This isn’t guidance. This is an order that’s enforced by law,” a visibly frustrated Lightfoot said at a Wednesday news conference. “We’re going to give you an admonition, and if you don’t turn right away and head home then you’re going to get a citation. And if worse, yeah, we will take you into custody. I hope that it doesn’t come to that. I hope I don’t have to shut down the lakefront, and shut down all the parks, but I will if we cannot get compliance.”


(Chicago Tribune’s Antonia Ayres-Brown contributed to this report.)


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