Elk Grove mayor: Concerts and fests will go on -- with no masks required
As surrounding Northwest suburban towns announce more cancellations of summer events due to COVID-19, Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson is doubling down on plans to host concerts and festivals -- saying that masks won't be required of attendees.
There also won't be crowd capacity limits or social distancing requirements for large-scale outdoor events, which normally attract tens of thousands to the village every year.
Johnson said the relaxed rules will take effect June 16-20 during Rotary Fest, normally among the first events to kick off summer festival season in the suburbs.
Masks also won't be required during the popular summer concert series held throughout July; the Play, Picnic & Party event on July 18; and the Hometown Parade and Oktoberfest in September, Johnson said.
"I know other communities have made other decisions. I respect their decisions," Johnson said. "But we are going on. We're opening up. We're gonna be back to the community that we've always been."
The mayor made the announcement Tuesday night from the village board dais on which he, trustees, the village manager and village attorney sat together -- without masks or distancing -- for the first time in more than a year. Johnson said that's because all on the panel have been fully vaccinated, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people could gather indoors without masks or social distancing.
Though no other board members at the meeting chimed in about the reopening plans, Johnson said later he has their unanimous endorsement. He also said the village staff and police are making plans for larger-than-normal crowds and extra parking, particularly for the July 4 concert and fireworks, since nearby towns have already shelved their traditional celebrations.
"In Elk Grove Village, we're not shy to step up, and we're willing to be the first one," Johnson said Wednesday. "But we wouldn't do anything that's dangerous."
Johnson used his Tuesday mayor's report to reiterate his initial pledge of a month ago to hold the annual summer events amid further confidence in local efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
That includes Wednesday's village-hosted clinic, where 2,350 first shots of the Pfizer vaccine were scheduled to be given to residents ages 16 and over, after officials secured a supply from Jewel-Osco. The village also hosted clinics March 16 and April 6 for seniors 65 and over, when more than 1,600 people got vaccinated.
"I'm looking optimistically that everyone that wanted to get a shot had a chance, got it, or they got it somewhere else, or they recently had COVID, or you don't want to get a shot, which is your prerogative," Johnson said. "People that want a shot -- we have worked hard to give you every opportunity to get a shot right here in Elk Grove Village.
"Vaccination is a key, folks, to getting through this pandemic."
Johnson's repeal of a local mask mandate is tied to President Joe Biden's declaration last month that there would be enough vaccines for all adults by the end of May. That's why the Memorial Day ceremony, scheduled to be held indoors May 31 at the park district Pavilion, will include a mask requirement for attendees, Johnson said.
But for the bigger outdoor events, Johnson declared all are welcome to come, vaccinated or not. Police and the village staff will have extra masks to give to those who want one, he added.
"The vaccinated people are safe. The people wearing masks are safe. So again, if you feel uncomfortable, don't come. You don't have to be there," Johnson said. "If you're nervous, wear a mask. You're more than welcome to do so. We'll give you a mask. If you want distance, there's more than enough room at our concerts. Same thing with Rotary Fest -- you can distance on your own. That's not a problem.
"But we are going ahead. We're opening up. We're doing our events."
The village's popular Mid-Summer Classics Concert Series drew a record attendance of 78,000 during five shows in 2019. The 12th annual series is set to kick off July 4 with rock group Daughtry.
Just announced Tuesday, George Thorogood & The Destroyers will replace KC and The Sunshine Band on the concert bill July 13, after the latter band canceled its 2021 tour.
Loverboy is set to perform July 20, followed by The Beach Boys on July 27.
Johnson added a caveat -- his familiar refrain of being "firm but flexible" -- that worsening COVID-19 news could alter reopening plans.
It's what led to the cancellation of the annual tree lighting ceremony and fireworks show in November -- even as Johnson was planning to stage the event within a fenced perimeter and masks required of attendees.