Tens of thousands of music fans will descend on Chicago on Thursday for Lollapalooza, the four-day festival in Grant Park featuring Post Malone, Tyler the Creator and Miley Cyrus. But the fest itself is under scrutiny. COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the city, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Tuesday the return of limited mask guidelines in an attempt to slow the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.
Chicago, which has a relatively high vaccination rate and low positivity rate compared to the rest of the state, does not currently meet the threshold for the CDC guidelines. But cases continue to rise, and city officials said this week that masks and “other” measures could return soon.
To understand what these new CDC guidelines mean — or don’t mean — for Chicago, Reset spoke with Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Chicago. Here are highlights from that conversation.
Why is the CDC recommending indoor masking again?
Back in May, I always thought it was a bit early to tell people that they didn’t need to wear masks indoors. Of course, for vaccinated people, that should have been fine. The problem was that all the unvaccinated people were going to not wear masks, too, which is exactly what we saw. And giving people the opportunity to use the honor system didn’t work. And what we’re seeing is big increases in the delta variant in places where you have low vaccination rates, like Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee. We’re seeing hospitals being overrun with patients, even younger individuals ending up in the hospital, and lots and lots of cases.
And that has led the CDC to realize that the delta variant isn’t behaving exactly the same way the old variants were. It turns out that people who are vaccinated can get delta. They may not get very sick from it, but they can pass it on to other people. And that means everybody’s got to wear masks again.
The CDC recommendation is for so-called “COVID-19 hotspots.” Does that apply to Chicago?
Chicago is considered “moderate risk.” The CDC data is based on seven days of data and we’re at about 43 cases per 100,000 population, per week. And that means that we’re about moderate but we’re heading upwards. We were “low” about a week ago, and now we’re into “moderate.” And I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re into “substantial” by next week.
Big swaths of the state of Illinois are already at “substantial” and “high” risk, especially because of the overflow from Missouri into some of our poorly vaccinated counties.
Is Lollapalooza unsafe, even with precautions?
There’s no reason why we can’t have outdoor music festivals. But there are some things that I think have sort of gone astray with this one that are kind of going to be a problem. So first of all, they were really pushing a lot of language about mandatory vaccination and definitely having tests within 24 hours. Now, that’s become 72 hours. And they’re just going to check these cards at the gate. They’re not going to use an app, which is what I think they originally had pitched about how they were going to manage that. And then, to be honest with you, I think the occupancy or the sort of number of attendees at Lollapalooza is too high.
I think if you bought tickets and you were expecting it to be really tightly controlled and this was going to be a safe space for you, I don’t think you can count on that now. So you may need to reconsider your ticket or at least reconsider how you behave after the event.
What do you think concert goers should do to minimize any spread?
This is the biggest message that I think is missing in Lollapalooza: If people choose to go to Lollapalooza, knowing all the risks that are there, that’s on them. But when they leave, they need to consider themselves as potentially having been exposed. And then I think unvaccinated people should probably lay low, even consider themselves in quarantine, for about a week afterwards. At the very least, wear your mask and avoid contact with people that are unvaccinated or who may be high risk, like immunocompromised individuals, and get tested.