“If this were indoors, it would be a no-brainer, it would have been cancelled. But since it’s outdoors, and we’re spacing people out, we have some confidence that we’re going to minimize and mitigate,” Lightfoot said.By CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot is defending the city’s plans to move forward with a massive fireworks display along the Chicago River and lakefront in downtown Chicago on New Year’s Eve, despite surging COVID-19 cases in the city.

The city will ring in the New Year on Friday night with what is billed as the largest fireworks display in the city’s history, with multiple displays going off along a 1.5-mile stretch of the Chicago River and the lakefront.

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Lightfoot said, because the city’s New Year’s Eve festivities are being held outdoors, and spread over such a large area, she’s confident the city is taking the proper precautions to limit the spread of the virus.

“Let’s keep in mind, it’s outdoors, and there was a conscious decision made not only obviously that it’s outdoors, but to spread it out so that we don’t have massive crowds gathering in one place,” she said.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady stressed that, while the city has touted this year’s New Year’s Eve fireworks as the largest ever in the city’s history, the festivities are being held outdoors, where risk of transmitting the virus is lower, and spread out over a 1.5-mile stretch downtown, allowing for greater spacing.

“There’s been a lot of work to spread them out along the river, along the lake, giving the opportunity for people to celebrate in as safe a way as they can out of doors, and more space than we’ve been able to have previously,” she said.

The city’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display on Friday night comes as Chicago is dealing with its worst spike in COVID cases during the pandemic, with the city averaging 3,825 new cases per day over the past week, the highest daily case average during the pandemic. That includes a record 5,338 new cases just days before Christmas.

The city’s test positivity rate is up to 16.2%, the highest it’s been since early May of 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic. That rate has doubled each of the past two weeks, largely due to the more contagious Omicron variant, which has become the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S.

“Our case rates are rising sharply, just like nationally, just like across the state of Illinois,” Arwady said.

The mayor said the city is also urging anyone planning to attend the fireworks display to be fully vaccinated and boosted and to get tested to make sure they don’t have COVID-19. She said anyone who isn’t vaccinated shouldn’t be attending large gatherings, and anyone who is feeling sick should stay home, regardless of their vaccination status.

“People have to be smart, recognize that the pandemic is still with us, that the Omicron variant is real, and that they have to do everything that they can to make sure that they protect themselves,”

While Chicago is going ahead with its New Year’s Eve festivities, San Francisco has canceled its fireworks show due to the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases. New York is also scaling back its New Year’s Eve festivities in Times Square because of the COVID surge.

Still, Lightfoot said she’s confident in going forward with Chicago’s New Year’s Eve fireworks show.

“If this were indoors, it would be a no-brainer, it would have been cancelled. But since it’s outdoors, and we’re spacing people out, we have some confidence that we’re going to minimize and mitigate,” she said. “But the reality is if people don’t take the COVID virus seriously, and this Omicron variant seriously, we are going to see circumstances where there’s spread.”

Lightfoot said she plans to spend New Year’s Eve watching the fireworks at home, “and I encourage other people to take advantage of that, and frankly they’re going to have a better viewpoint unless you’ve got a hotel room in a high rise, or what have you.”

“We have to manage through this surge, and the best things that we can do is get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask, and make sure that we’re social distancing,” she added. “You’ve got to be smart, and I’m not going to be the mom to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do, but I know what I’m going to do, which is to be close, make sure that if I gather, then I’m only gathering with people that I know are vaccinated, particularly boosted.”

The mayor also said, in gatherings she has attended during the holiday season, they have been having people get tested for the virus to make sure they’re not positive for COVID-19.

“I still am nervous about the fact that we see such a huge spike in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. We’ve got to pay attention to those metrics. What that says to me, you’ve got to be careful,” Lightfoot said. “I don’t need to remind you that we’re still in the throes of this pandemic, and are grappling with the spread of a new Omicron variant, which is more transmissible, as we’re seeing, than its counterparts. We are still seeing cases rise, meaning that we need to be careful in social gatherings.”

She also reminded Chicagoans that masks are still required in all indoor public settings in Illinois whenever someone is not actively eating or drinking.

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“Community spread is the biggest challenge that we are facing right now, and we’ve got tools at our disposal to make sure that we can address that, starting with getting yourself vaccinated,” she said.

Lightfoot and Arwady joined other city officials on Wednesday to outline their plans for street closures and other public safety measures during the New Year’s Eve fireworks display.

“The city remains ready to respond to all safety hazards with city measures to ensure a safe New Year’s Eve celebration,” said Rich Guidice, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

At midnight Friday night, as 2022 officially begins, fireworks displays will launch from just south of Navy Pier, as well as seven locations along the Chicago River – including the Orleans Street, LaSalle Street, Clark Street, Dearborn Street, and State Street bridges; between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive; and between Columbus Drive and DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

In order to accommodate the anticipated crowds, the city will close off several streets and sidewalks downtown:

  • Beginning at 4 p.m., sidewalks will close to pedestrians on one side of each of the following bridges (pedestrians will have access to the sidewalk on the remaining side of the bridge and be able to cross until the bridges are closed for the display launch between 11-11:30 p.m.): Franklin/Orleans Street bridge (west sidewalk), Lasalle Street bridge (east sidewalk), Clark Street bridge (east sidewalk), Dearborn Street bridge (west sidewalk), and State Street bridge (east sidewalk).
  • At 4 p.m., the Chicago Riverwalk will close east of State Street to all pedestrian traffic. The remainder of the Riverwalk west of State Street will close based on public safety. Viewing will not be allowed from the Chicago Riverwalk.
  • Beginning at 11 p.m., expect complete closures of the Franklin/Orleans Street, Lasalle Street, Clark Street, Dearborn Street, and State Street bridges to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
  • Also, at 11:00 p.m., eastbound Upper, Middle and Lower Wacker Drive will be closed to vehicular traffic from Lake Street to Stetson Avenue. Pedestrian traffic and viewing from Upper Wacker Drive will be permitted.
  • Streets and bridges are expected to reopen to vehicular traffic approximately 10 minutes after the fireworks display or when deemed safe to do so. We anticipate all bridges and streets to re-open by 12:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 1.

The mayor said the city won’t hesitate to take action against anyone who “crosses the line” and endangers public safety by committing a crime during the New Year’s Eve festivities.

“Many people will be about downtown, including children, and we want our children to be able to enjoy the richness and greatness of the city, and they are of course welcome anywhere, but they should be accompanied by an adult and supervised,” she said. “And if they are coming on their own, it is vitally important that they must be respectful to others. We have community norms, and we expect those to be upheld, particularly with our young people.”

Lightfoot also urged parents to make sure they know where their kids are on New Year’s Eve.

“Do not simply drop them off downtown and hope for the best. That is simply not responsible,” she said.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said the department has extended officers’ working hours and canceled days off from Friday morning through Sunday morning, in order to maintain a heightened presence and provide sufficient manpower to respond to “multiple challenges” in the neighborhoods and downtown.

“It’s no secret that this holiday is a busy, busy time for the Chicago Police Department, but as many toast the new year with family and friends, the men and women of the Chicago Police Department will be working to keep everyone safe,” he said.

Police said officers from several specialized units, detectives, and officers typically assigned to police headquarters will be assisting with crowd and traffic control.

No boats will be allowed on the Chicago River from just west of the Franklin Street bridge to just east of the Columbus Drive bridge during the fireworks display.

In addition, the CTA will be operating on a Sunday/Holiday schedule on Friday, although the Purple and Yellow lines will operate with extended hours, with trains running until 2 a.m.

The CTA also will provide free bus and train rides between 10 p.m. Friday and 4 a.m. Saturday. Customers will not need a Ventra card to board buses or enter train stations during that time.

With the Chicago River bridges between Franklin/Orleans and Lake Shore Drive closing for the fireworks display, the following bus routes will operate only to Wacker Drive during the fireworks show: #3 King Drive, #6 Jackson Park Express, #22 Clark, #36 Broadway, #62 Archer, #146 Inner Drive/Michigan Express, #147 Outer Drive Express, and #151 Sheridan.

Other CTA buses that operate near the fireworks display will be subject to temporary detours.

A complete listing of all CTA bus service impacts is available at www.transitchicago.com/travel-information/bus-status/

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Meantime, the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications will provide notifications on weather conditions and emergencies through the NotifyChicago alerts system:

  • CHILAKE: For lakefront notices, TEXT “CHILAKE” to 7-8-0-1-5
  • CHIBIZ: For alerts affecting businesses, TEXT “CHIBIZ” to 6-7-2-8-3
  • COVID: Get COVID-19 updates by TEXTING “COVID19” to 6-7-2-8-3

CBS 2 Chicago Staff