It’s April in Chicago so of course the weather can’t decide if it’s spring or winter. Two days ago we finally hit 70 degrees for the first time. Yesterday it snowed on and off. You know, Chicago.
Speaking of typical Chicago, one of the things many Chicago residents appreciate is the incredible summer festival scene. It’s not just baseball on the North and South sides of the city that draws residents out of their homes every spring and summer. There are international music festivals, food truck festivals, and street fairs almost every weekend. It’s one of the things that makes the frigid Chicago winters almost worth it. We all know that on the other side of -17 real feel there is the promise of beaches, baseball and music.
Enter stage left: COVID-19 which is just remarkably insistent on throwing wrenches into the works of pretty much everything people love. From Block Club Chicago yesterday:
All summer events and large gatherings should be canceled, Gov. JB Pritzker advised Thursday.
The governor, speaking at a briefing on coronavirus, said everyone “needs to think seriously” about canceling large summer events like festivals and concerts to protect people during the pandemic.
Though Illinois is expected to hit its peak of cases in mid- to late April, the state — and Chicago, which has been a hot spot for coronavirus — will still see people getting sick and dying from COVID-19 for months after that.
“From my perspective today, I don’t see how we’re going to have large gatherings of people, again, until we have a vaccine, which is months and months away. I would not risk having large groups of people getting together anywhere,” Pritzker said. “And I think that’s hard for everybody to hear, but that’s just a fact.
“Even with testing and tracing and treating as is necessary for us to begin to make changes, it isn’t enough for me to say that it’s OK to have a big festival with a whole bunch of people gathering together.”
I mean. I get it. Public health has to come first right now and Gov. Pritzker is just explaining what he thinks the reality is given the facts on the ground. But as I type this Dr. Deborah Birx, the US Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, is presenting as part of the daily press briefing. She’s one of the leading experts on the pandemic and is explaining that she has no idea what reopening society looks like because there has never been a national strategy to close everything down for a pandemic before.
Which leads me to a question I just keep thinking about as we close out the first month of this stay at home order in Illinois: Why are all of these events discussed as all or nothing propositions? Take baseball for example, the debate seems to be games v. no games and/or fans v. no fans. There seems to be very little discussion of fewer fans, seating arrangements that accommodate social distancing, or better testing and temperature checks like South Korea and other Asian countries have implemented. Stadiums are large places. It is true that socially distancing is hard with 40,000 other people in a confined place, but what about 2,000 or 5,000? Are there ways to make smaller events work? I mean, are you honestly telling me these people aren’t socially distanced?
This applies to public spaces like parks and private spaces like restaurants as well. The Lakefront Trail can’t handle the entire city of Chicago using it safely at one time, but a permit system that allowed a limited number of people to access the space at a time could easily accommodate social distancing. Obviously restaurants would make more money packed to capacity, but surely 25 percent of capacity (or whatever the break-even point is) is better than being closed indefinitely?
I can almost hear the responses now: Sara, did you read what you wrote on St. Patrick’s Day? Or the day the Lakefront Trail closed? Do you honestly think people can be trusted to go to a ballgame or the park and socially distance effectively?
That is a valid concern and the answer is I don’t know. It seems pretty clear that people weren’t capable of any of that on March 14, but I am also hopeful that society has done a lot of learning about the importance of washing their hands, wearing masks and social distancing since then. It’s only been a month but we aren’t the same people that shut it all down for 29 days. Perhaps after 30 more days of this a more robust testing regime and modified social norms for acceptable behaviors and smaller gatherings until a vaccine exists will provide a bridge between our current stay at home reality and returning to normal years from now.
Admittedly, some of this is me looking out my window on a cold, but sunny day in Chicago and envisioning months without access to a space to even lay in the sun with a book. However, a larger part of this is honestly just me wondering if there are half or even quarter measures that could make this city enjoyable and livable in the medium term until a vaccine exists. I’ve been diligent about social distancing, I am committed to doing what’s right for the health of others, but I am very skeptical that 95 percent of the country can continue with no public gatherings of 10 or more people (or whatever the number is these days) for more than a year.