(Photo by Aneil Lutchman, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The first weekend of August is an exciting time in Chicago. The city is abuzz with visitors and locals alike, enjoying the musical talents that grace the Lollapalooza stages in Grant Park. After a COVID year off, the feeling had returned this year — for some.

On my lunch break last Thursday, I watched as Lolla attendees flooded out of Union Station and set off for Grant Park. As the first event resembling life pre-pandemic, I could tell the crowd’s anticipation was especially piqued. I couldn’t help but feel some of the excitement too. More than that though, I worried about a downward spiral back into a pandemic life we thought was behind us.

When city officials announced earlier this year that some version of Lollapalooza would take place, there was hope that this summer might mean a genuine return to normal. It symbolized a big step forward, creating some tangible goal to inspire Chicagoans to roll up their sleeves and keep the faith. A carrot. A Miley Cyrus, Post Malone, Megan Thee Stallion-sized carrot.

However, with vaccination rates plateauing and the emergence of the delta variant, allowing Lolla to go on was no longer the responsible thing to do. For one, inviting more than 100,000 attendees to the festival each day with limited mask-wearing and evidence of “breakthrough cases” developing even in vaccinated people, posed an obvious threat to people’s health. More than that, this event is really going to complicate the pandemic dialogue the city had developed. From pushing for Lolla one day to asking citizens to mask back up and take all proper precautions, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her team risked losing any and all credibility they may have built up. 

This weekend also happened to be my annual family picnic. There are usually only two times a year when my whole extended family sees each other — Christmas Day and this picnic. It has been almost two full years since we were together — a reality, I’m sure, for many families. 

For many in my family, swapping the once-weekly family Zoom for a real, in-person return to tradition was a perpetual light at the end of the COVID-tunnel. There was talk of cancelling it once more out of concern for the changing pandemic landscape. At the same time, entire fields of people were moshing together in Grant Park without a mask in sight. 

Given that it was outside, and after deciding to further distance and limit those long-awaited hugs and kisses, my family decided to go ahead with the picnic. Getting to be with family and those we care about was why we put in all the hard work of keeping one another safe for the past year and a half.

But Familypalooza was definitely not Lollapalooza, and while I, too, would love to go sing and dance and enjoy a live music festival, our leaders should have been more responsible with what they allowed to take place. They needed to do more to prioritize people’s well-being, both physically and emotionally. 

Mary Hester is serving an internship this summer at Wednesday Journal.

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