University of Chicago Medical Center epidemiologist Emily Langdon speaks at a Friday, March 20, press conference, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker (right) behind her.

Developments surrounding the coronavirus continued to envelop Hyde Parkers and all Illinoisans on Monday.

Following last Friday's announcement by Gov. J.B. Pritzker of a shelter-in-place order for the state that began on Saturday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on Monday that the city is finalizing quarantine and isolation locations, bolstering hospital capacity, supporting health care and emergency workers and building a supply chain for critical medical equipment.

"I want to say and be clear: this is not a lockdown or martial law," she said, urging people not to hoard supplies and to visit for information. "Hospitals will continue to treat patients, the city's essential services will not cease, the CTA will run, airports will be open, and your garbage will be collected."

"The only strategy available to us to limit the increase in cases and ensure our health care system has capacity to treat those who become ill is to mitigate the spread of coronavirus in the most robust manner possible," Pritzker had said at his Friday press conference.

Illinoisans will still be able to leave the house to go to the grocery store, pharmacies, gas stations or medical facilities. Hiking, running and walking outside is allowed.

Agriculture, the press, veterinarians, plumbers, laundromats, banks, restaurants serving carryout, transportation infrastructure and public safety will also operate. Pritzker said essential workers will have childcare provided, as schools statewide will remain closed into April. (They will continue providing meals.) The state is asking municipalities to halt evictions, and homeless services are to be better resourced.

Coronavirus testing will be increased, Pritzker said: "They will screen people more effectively, isolate them more quickly and attack this more efficiently."

But all non-essential businesses must stop operating; those who can work from home must do so. Chicago's park buildings and public libraries have closed for the duration of the shelter-in-place.

"For the vast majority of you already taking precautions, your lives will not change very much," the governor promised, urging people to not flock to groceries or gas stations.

On Monday, Mayor Lightfoot said: "The reality is, if you look at what's happened over the arc of the last 10 days, people are staying at home. They're tele-working. They are really paring down, as we are in city government, to the bare essence: only going out when they need to go out."

While not anticipating widespread violations, Lightfoot said the Chicago Police Department will engage people on the streets in conversation and ask them to go home.

"We have disrupted normal social networks and interactions, but it is critically important that we not lose our sense of community. This is not a time for every man for himself. This is a time for every man, woman and child to be united together," Lightfoot said. "The choices we make today can renew and restore health and prosperity in Chicago and throughout Illinois."

Emily Landon, the University of Chicago Medical Center's lead epidemiologist, conceded that efforts to prepare for a respiratory virus pandemic still resulted in this situation, wherein a new virus strikes a society "with too little information, not enough personal protective equipment (PPE), changing protocols every single day and no second chances."

She said those who are sick now got sick a week ago: "Without taking drastic measures, the healthy and optimistic among us will doom the vulnerable."

And she said that cases will come "fast and furious, at least for the next couple of weeks and in the short term."

"All of us in the field of infectious diseases and the public health community are united in our efforts and agree with this course of action," Landon said.

"We can't take care of everyone at once, and we can't keep that low mortality promise if we can't provide the support that our patients need," she continued. "Our health care system doesn't have any slack. There are no empty wards waiting for patients or nurses waiting in the wings. We barely even have enough masks for the patients that we have."

She said things are already tough in Illinois hospitals, including the UCMC. Without a vaccine or antivirals, all society has to staunch the spread is social distancing.

"This isn't the life any of us expected, and certainly there are others who will make much greater sacrifices, and there are many more disappointments to come," Landon said. "But this isn't going to be forever, like the governor said. It will last longer than any of us want it to. But in the end, we will look back and see it as just a piece of what happened in our whole lives, and we have to remember that."

The present, she said, is about protecting critical workers, manufacturing PPE and creating medications.

"Even a little time makes a huge difference," Langdon said. "It will take more than a week to see the rate of increase slow down, and that's a complicated thing to say. It'll take even longer to see the rate come down and see it slowing, and infections going down. So please don't give up."

Mayor Lightfoot said Monday that the city had partnered with five hotels to house at-risk individuals during the coronavirus outbreak, and that the Chicago YMCA would open three locations to house homeless people. 

The mayor said that 1,000 rooms would be available by Tuesday, with 2,000 free at the end of the week. Hotel One Sixty-Six is one of the locations participating: the agreement marked the resolution of an 18-month labor dispute between workers and the hotel operator. Lightfoot would not name the other hotels “for the obvious reasons — we want people going there to be able to have their privacy.” 

Hotels were classified as an “essential business” in Pritzker's executive order, but many locations already have shut down because of low occupancy rates. Under the city’s new plan, staff would be re-hired to operate the hotels. None, however, will be in direct contact with occupants. 

The occupants themselves will be people who are either healthy, waiting for test results, or have contracted a mild version of coronavirus, but can’t socially distance from home because they have unstable housing, or normally live with high-risk individuals. 

The initiative’s purpose is to ensure that the city has an adequate supply of hospital beds. “If we don’t have a place for those individuals we exacerbate the problem of spread in the community. We’re also freeing up space in hospitals for those with more complex needs,” said Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady. “78% of Chicago residents with corona have not needed to stay in hospital. We can provide housing situation for them that’s safe for their families and safe for the community.” 

Guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that shelters place beds 6 feet apart — because that’s decreased space in existing shelters, the city has “essentially launched a second shelter network,” according to Department of Family and Support Services Lisa Morrison Butler. At the press conference, Lightfoot announced that the YMCA would open up 400 beds in 3 locations to house homeless people. Other community organizations will also participate in the effort. 


Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

(1) comment

John Weis Loftus

“The press” Is still allowed to run during the crisis, couldn’t the government do the people of favor and prohibit/shut down the press.. which has lied to the people for the past three years?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.