Editorial: Mayors may have to play hardball with residents over COVID complacency

  • Signs posted in downtown Arlington Heights encourage visitors to maintain social distance and wear masks.

    Signs posted in downtown Arlington Heights encourage visitors to maintain social distance and wear masks.

Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 7/24/2020 5:44 AM

A little more than a week ago, Gov. J.B. Pritzker sounded an alarm.

With a rising segment of COVID-19 cases in Illinois befalling 20-somethings, he threatened to pull the plug on indoor dining at bars and restaurants if things got much worse.


Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot days later declared that today she would tighten up her city's Phase 4 policies.

Pritzker noted that 17 percent of new cases were people between 20 and 29 -- the largest age group contracting it and that recent data suggests indoor bars and restaurants that fail to follow precautions can create breeding grounds for transmission of the disease.

Arlington Heights has closed several blocks of Campbell Street and Vail Avenue in the downtown to allow for alfresco dining. There is a wide central walkway down the middle of the two streets, with signs instructing walkers to stay to the right and wear a mask. If you go there, it may seem as if those signs do not exist.

The restaurants have spaced tables a good distance apart, workers are masked and gloved and constantly disinfect tables. What happens within their fenced-in areas seems to be a well-controlled environment. But beyond the fencing, good behavior goes right out the window.

Full families walk unmasked, clusters of teens wander through, cutting across lanes of pedestrian traffic with masks looped around wrists, tucked into pockets or missing entirely. Social distancing and masks are the exception, not the rule.

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Four weeks ago, Illinois opened up restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms, with measures taken to preserve social distancing.

In Chicago today: liquor establishments that don't sell food will have to move everyone back outside; the maximum party size will be reduced to six from 10; indoor fitness classes will be limited to 10 people, down from 50.

The village of Lake Bluff recognizes the peril in complacency. It sent out a wake-up to residents in the form of a news release.

"Negligence will threaten our health, our businesses and our children's ability to return to school in the fall," Village President Kathleen O'Hara said. "We each need to take personal responsibility for what's happening in our community."

Village officials noted three critical risks: unnecessary social gatherings; inattention to face coverings, especially outdoors; and youth sports.

Mark Pfister, executive director of the Lake County Health Department, said: "If you don't have to have a party, why have it? Everybody wants to 'get back in the groove,' but that's going to cause issues. The first wave is not over yet for Lake County."

It's not over anywhere in the suburbs. Other towns would be wise to follow the leads of Chicago and Lake Bluff and play a little hardball.

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