Despite pushback and health guidance, Elk Grove mayor still vows to hold maskless events
Despite pushback from Cook County health officials and new federal health guidance, Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson still vowed Tuesday to hold mask-optional concerts and other events this summer.
Johnson said he's gotten calls, cards and thank you notes since his announcement two weeks ago that summer events -- including the popular July weekly concert series -- would be held without masks required, crowd capacity limits or social distancing. He also acknowledged the criticism he's received after a media blitz that included interviews in local newspapers, TV and radio.
In response, Johnson Tuesday night cited various studies on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and reiterated his belief that their increasing availability justified holding the large-scale outdoor events.
"I say it a million times: The key to beating this pandemic is vaccination, vaccination, vaccination, vaccination, vaccination. That is the key to beating this," Johnson said during a village board meeting. "Now I respect people's rights that choose not to get vaccinated. But their choice not to get vaccinated should not stop the rest of the world that chose to get vaccinated from moving on."
Johnson's latest comments came the same day as updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said fully vaccinated people don't need to wear masks outdoors -- except in certain crowded settings and venues.
The village's free popular Mid-Summer Classics Concert Series normally attracts tens of thousands to town every year. Johnson has declared all are welcome to come -- vaccinated or not, masked or not.
Johnson confirmed receiving calls from top officials at the Cook County Department of Public Health after his initial announcement earlier this month. He declined to detail those conversations.
And in response to questions about the planned Elk Grove events, a health department spokesman only forwarded a link to the new CDC guidance released Tuesday morning.
Johnson believes the state of COVID-19 may look a lot different in seven weeks at the start of Rotary Fest -- considered one of the first summer festivals in the suburbs -- and that health guidance might be updated again by then.
Even so, he said the village staff would have masks on hand to distribute, and the summer concerts would have a dedicated area for social distancing.
Perhaps trying to head off any confrontations between those masked and unmasked, Johnson said residents should thank anyone wearing a mask for being there.
"We're Elk Grove. We're a community. We care about each other," he said.
Johnson added his familiar caveat of being "firm but flexible" with the reopening plans, should COVID-19 news worsen. It's what led to the cancellation of the annual tree lighting ceremony and fireworks show in November that called for a fenced perimeter and required masks for those inside.
The difference now and reason for optimism, Johnson believes, is widespread availability of the vaccine.