Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot moved to shut down some of the city’s lakefront over the weekend after dozens of people were seen crowded into a park without masks or social distancing.
Lightfoot observed the ill-advised gathering in person on Saturday afternoon at Montrose Beach, and called out the partygoers on Twitter.
‘It’s called a pandemic, people,’ the mayor wrote alongside a photo of at least 50 people scantily clad in bikinis and swim trunks with zero masks in sight.
‘This reckless behavior on Montrose Beach is what will cause us to shut down the parks and lakefront. Don’t make us take steps backwards.’
Lightfoot followed through with her threat as hours later city workers were seen installing a fence around the park, leaving the lakeside trail open but closing off areas where people could congregate.
The move came as Chicago continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, prompting officials to reinstate some restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot visited Chicago’s Montrose Beach on Saturday and tweeted a photo which showed dozens of mask-less people who appeared to be ignoring social distancing rules
Lightfoot decried the ‘reckless behavior’ on Twitter and threatened to shut down the lakefront
Lightfoot followed through with her threat as hours later city workers were seen installing a fence around the park
One man who saw Lightfoot visit Montrose Beach on Saturday said that the photos and videos captured by the mayor and her cameraman were misleading.
‘In person and in the flesh, it’s not as bad as that photo suggests,’ Mick Montesi told CBS2, noting that similar gatherings have been taking place along the lake for the past two months.
Justin Schneider, who has a boat in Montrose Harbor, said Saturday’s crowd ‘definitely was not social distancing [and] a lot of people didn’t have masks on’.
‘I understand where her frustration is and concern is coming from,’ Schneider said of Lightfoot.
But he added: ‘Where are people expected to go to when the beaches are closed it’s 95 degrees out?’
Officials have acknowledged that ongoing beach closures are driving people to pack into park areas, but say that the reckless gatherings in parks show that people cannot be trusted to safely use the beaches.
In the hours after Lightfoot tweeted her Montrose Beach photo, police officers were seen patroling the area and ordering people to disperse.
Witness Miles Kampf-Lassin criticized the shutdown on Twitter, insisting that groups there had been spaced out.
He shared a photo of an officer telling a people by the lake to leave, writing: ‘The cop just told this couple that he didn’t want to be doing it, but “the mayor says go to the bar.”‘
‘Seems like not a great policy approach to an airborne pandemic,’ Kampf-Lassin added.
In the hours after Lightfoot tweeted her Montrose Beach photo, police officers were seen patroling the area and ordering people to disperse. Witness Miles Kampf-Lassin criticized the shutdown on Twitter, insisting that groups there had been spaced out
Police were also seen turning cars away from Montrose Beach on Saturday evening and telling visitors it was closed.
Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons confirmed that a fence had been erected around where the large gathering took place.
‘The Chicago Park District installed fencing at Montrose Beach to deter large gatherings like those observed (Saturday),’ Lemons told the Chicago Tribune.
‘While the lakefront trail is open, Chicago’s beaches and parkland east of Lake Shore Drive remain closed under the Chicago Department of Public Health’s executive order.’
Meanwhile, police also worked to disperse crowds at the lakefront near Belmont.
The crackdown took place just one day after the city gave 13 of Chicago’s lakefront restaurants to reopen.
Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons confirmed that a fence had been erected around where the large gathering took place
Crowds cool off along the lakefront in Chicago on July 14 as city officials blamed social gatherings for a new surge in coronavirus cases
Chicago’s beaches remain closed by lakefront paths alongside them are open
Several people expressed frustration with Lightfoot on Twitter, saying that limiting open spaces was only worsening the density of patrons in restaurants.
One person tweeted a photo of a packed restaurant and wrote: ‘You allow this restaurant to open a couple of feet away from Montrose Beach, but not the giant beachfront right past it. Shut the f**k up.’
Another replied to Lightfoot’s tweet with a photo of a different busy eatery, writing: ‘Oh but this crowded cafe at Diversey is just fine, right?? Because it’s rich people bringing in revenue.
‘You’re being irrational, Lori. Start by listening to science and logic.’
Yet another critic shared a snap of park workers putting up the fence and noted that many of them were not wearing masks.
‘It’s called a pandemic Lori! Your staff is not socially distancing with masks as they disrupt an otherwise safe afternoon at Montrose Beach.’
The mayor’s office raised the alarm about a new surge in coronavirus cases in a news release on July 20 as it reinstated some restrictions, including reducing party sizes in bars and restaurants.
The release charged that the surge was fueled in part by young people who were gathering in social settings like bars, restaurants, parks and the lakefront.
‘If we’re going to win against the greatest public health challenge we’ve ever faced, none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines and warm the benches,’ Lightfoot said in another statement the same week.
‘We cannot afford to let our guard down – it’s time to team up with your masks up.’
As of Sunday, 63,876 coronavirus cases and 2,809 deaths have been reported in Chicago.
Daily new cases have continued to climb over the last month, according to county health data.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker also expressed concern about the situation across the state on Sunday after more than 2,000 daily new cases were reported on Friday and Saturday.
Pleading with residents to heed mask guidelines, Pritzker said: ‘Imagine if someone could walk into a restaurant, light a cigarette, blow smoke in your face, and all the smoker had to say is: “Well it’s my choice.”‘
Dr Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, added: ‘We are seeing cases increasing each day and hearing about people not complying with the masking mandate.
‘This rule is an effort to help keep all of us healthy and decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19.’
It came as the governor’s office announced new rules giving local officials more power to enforce guidelines for social gatherings and masks.
The rules include fines of up to $2,500 for businesses that fail to enforce guidelines.