The Chicago skyline is seen from the Whihala Beach in Whiting on Thursday, July 2, 2020. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune)
Chicago officials warned residents Friday to limit gatherings to prevent COVID-19 risk and watch for signs of heat stroke amid high temperatures.
The temperature hit 89 degrees at O’Hare International Airport late Friday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service, and the forecast through the holiday weekend calls for temperatures to reach into the low 90s in parts of the Chicago area.
Rich Guidice, executive director of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said the city will implement its emergency response plan if the National Weather Service forecasts a heat index of more than 105 to 110 degrees for two days in a row. The plan includes cooling centers and buses, along with well-being checks on people who may be at risk.
“We encourage residents to make a special effort to check on your neighbors during extreme heat, especially if they are seniors, families with young children, people with special needs or living alone,” Guidice said.
If the city’s cooling centers open, Guidice said, they will be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Residents will be required to wear face coverings upon entrance, and the Department of Family and Support Services will provide free masks to those in need. Guidice noted that the centers were reconfigured for social distancing.
Cooling centers in Chicago are located at 1140 W. 79th St., 10 S. Kedzie Ave., 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave., 845 W. Wilson Ave., 8650 S. Commercial Ave., and 4312 W. North Ave. Guidice noted that libraries, city colleges and parks can be opened as cooling centers if needed.
Michael Kelly, superintendent of the Chicago Park District, reminded people to take caution when gathering in the city’s parks over the holiday weekend. He told people to wear masks and keep moving to avoid spreading COVID-19. He said beaches are still closed.
“If you went up and down the lakefront just this morning, you would see social distancing ambassadors in blue shirts politely asking people to leave,” Kelly said when asked about people seen gathering on North Side beaches in recent weeks.
There will also be police officers and lifeguards monitoring the lakefront, he said.
“We’re all in this together in Chicago, and we need all of us to participate,” Kelly said. “We certainly don’t want to get into a situation where we’re arresting people or writing tickets or any confrontation whatsoever.”
Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner, said the city limits people to gathering in groups of fewer than 50 people indoors, and to fewer than 100 people outdoors. Even with 50 people, Arwady said, there is a 1-in-6 chance someone has coronavirus.
The city announced Thursday that an order will go into effect Monday requiring people traveling to high-risk states for coronavirus to self-quarantine for 14 days.
“The virus does not care why it has had an opportunity to spread,” she said. “If it has an opportunity to spread because people have come from a state where the virus is not under control, it will spread here in Chicago.”
The city is providing block party permits to people who adhere to gathering requirements.
“I am in support of those kinds of gatherings,” Arwady said.
Arwady advised residents to either stay in air conditioning or take breaks in air-conditioned buildings. She told people to drink plenty of water even if not thirsty and avoid sugary and alcoholic drinks that can cause further dehydration. Other protective measures include wearing sunscreen and loose, lightweight clothing.
“Do not rely on a fan for trying to keep cool,” Arwady said. “Taking a cool bath or shower is a safer and more effective way to stay cool.”
She told residents to watch for signs for heat exhaustion, which often stems from dehydration and exposure to high temperatures. She said people should call 911 if someone develops signs of heat stroke, which can consist of fever, dizziness, nausea, confusion, headaches, a high heart rate and irritated skin.
The health commissioner emphasized that residents should not leave pets and children in cars. It can be deadly, she reminded residents.
“Working together, we’ll be able to stay as safe as possible when we have warm weather this July,” Arwady said.
Residents can visit notifychicago.org to receive weather alerts, and people can call 311 or visit 311.Chicago.gov to find cooling centers or request well-being checks. There is also a CHI311 app for smartphone users.