Here’s how Lightfoot’s plan to reopen Chicago differs from the state’s approach

Chicago’s plan could put the city on a very different timeline than the rest of the state.

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long
chicago, skyline, chicago skyline, downtown, milennium park, shutterstock
Photograph: Shutterstock

After abruptly canceling yesterday's press conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot got in front of the microphone this afternoon to outline her plan to reopen Chicago, which both builds on and deviates from the reopening plan for the state of Illinois that Governor J.B. Pritzker described earlier this week. Entitled "Protecting Chicago," Lightfoot's framework also proposes five phases, with the final phase being a near-complete reopening of the city (though some new safety guidelines will be in place) that relies on the availability of a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19. According to Lightfoot, Chicago is currently in phase two, in which a "stay-at-home" order is in place, face coverings are required and time outdoors should be limited to essential errands and activities.

In outlining her approach, Lightfoot mostly spoke in broad strokes and somewhat vague terms—it's abundantly clear that the details of the plan are still being solidified and will likely evolve in the coming weeks and months. However, it's also obvious that the Protecting Chicago plan currently differentiates itself from the Illinois plan in some key ways. Here's how the Chicago-specific framework currently differs from the plan that the state of Illinois set forth.

Chicago will likely move through phases at a different pace than the rest of Illinois

The state of Illinois' plan assesses progress in the fight against COVID-19 using data that spans 28 days, meaning that the soonest a region could move to the next phase of the plan would be 28 days after it reached its previous phase. The Protecting Chicago framework will assess the number of confirmed cases, hospital capacity, testing capacity and the capacity for response (including the availability of contact tracing) in 14-day increments, corresponding to the incubation period for a typical case of COVID-19. "It's fairly standard to use an incubation period and we wanted to use the same metric across all the time-based metrics," explained Dr. Allison Arwady. While specific figures related to the targets that Chicago needs to hit to move to the next phase weren't offered, the progress will be tracked on the city's COVID-19 website. Ultimately, the Chicago plan will likely place the city on a different timeline than the rest of the Northeastern Illinois region, as the city is using different metrics.

Lightfoot is leaning on industry groups to help set reopening rules

During today's press conference, Deputy Mayor for Economic and Neighborhood Development Samir Mayekar revealed that the city has formed 10 industry reopening groups to develop guidelines for each phase of the Chicago reopening plan. "I know that we cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to our industry, we need to listen to the nuanced needs of various businesses," Mayekar stated. While the state's plan largely separates businesses in terms of being essential or non-essential, the Chicago framework will try to establish specific guidelines for 10 industries (the food and beverage sector are one of them, but the rest have not been revealed) that focus on the safety of the customers and workers via detailed regulations regarding things like capacity limits and the use of protective gear in each phase of the reopening.

Chicago wants input from its residents on how to reopen

While Gov. Pritzker is likely fielding recommendations from individuals all over the state as he implements the Illinois reopening plan, Chicago is offering an easy way for residents to give their two cents on reopening measures. Mayor Lightfoot announced that the city's coronavirus response website will host a brief survey that Chicagoans can complete anonymously, noting that "your responses will shape our decisions on where we need to place greater emphasis and how we can make our reopening as smooth and supportive as possible."

The city is still determining the types of businesses that will be allowed to reopen

The Restore Illinois plan spells out the phases in which specific types of businesses like cinemas, theaters, salons and gyms will be able to reopen their doors in some capacity, but Chicago's framework is currently extremely vague. The aforementioned industry reopening groups will likely help guide the city's decision on what types of businesses might reopen as Chicago reaches new phases, but the capacity and safety practices could differ from those mandated by the state. Lightfoot seemed confident that office workers in the Loop will likely continue telecommuting until sometime this fall (at the earliest), but she wasn't able to offer concrete details about who can expect to go back to work in phase three (or any of the subsequent phases). She did say that she could envision one-on-one services offered by professionals like hairdressers and attorneys being allowable in phase three, but the rules applied to those types of businesses have not yet been established.

Reopening parks and other outdoor spaces will be Lightfoot's call

Missing the lakefront, the 606 and the Chicago Riverwalk? Us too, but after Mayor Lightfoot closed them to the public due to overcrowding in late March, it doesn't sound like they'll be opening again anytime soon. Gov. Pritzker reopened Illinois state parks for some activities through the Restore Illinois plan, but Protecting Chicago framework doesn't currently include any details about reopening outdoor spaces. "I've got to be confident that we can open up those larger venues in a way that still allows us to maintain social distancing," Mayor Lightfoot said. She did acknowledge suggestions that she's received for a phased reopening of the Lakefront Trail, but reiterated that any decision she makes will be dictated by public health guidance.

Lightfoot is refusing to call for a blanket cancelation of summer events

Gov. Pritzker made it pretty clear that large summer events are out of the question until a vaccine is available, saying "It brings me no joy to say this, but based on what the experts tell us and everything we know about this virus and how easily it spreads in a crowd, large conventions, festivals and other major events will be on hold until we reach Phase 5." Mayor Lightfoot was a bit more evasive when asked about canceling summer events, saying that she could "possibly" see outdoor gatherings being allowable later this summer if cases are on the decline, though they would need to follow strict limits on capacity and follow social distancing and face covering guidance.

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