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Lightfoot 'Extremely Concerned' Thanksgiving Could Become 'Super-Spreader Event' If People Don't Cancel Traditional Holiday Plans

CHICAGO (CBS) -- On the eve of Thanksgiving Day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady again urged Chicagoans to cancel traditional holiday plans to limit the spread of COVID-19 during the holiday weekend.

"Let me put this as bluntly as I can: we are extremely concerned about Thanksgiving weekend becoming a super-spreader event," Lightfoot said Wednesday morning. "Despite the ongoing warnings from responsible leaders across the country, about 50 million Americans are still expected to travel this weekend. That is why we need to double down on our precautions in order to prevent a continued rise in cases, hospitalizations, and unfortunately deaths."

Lightfoot said people should keep Thanksgiving plans limited to the people in their immediate household, and spend time with other friends and family remotely.

"I know this is going to be hard. It's hard for all of us. It's hard for me. I expected to be celebrating with my 92-year-old mother and other family members, but that's not going to happen this year," she said.

The mayor said, while the city's coronavirus positivity rate has gone down slightly in the past couple weeks, she said it remains "dangerously high."

"And we are still on track – unfortunately, tragically -- for an additional 1,000 deaths by the New Year just in Chicago alone. That should be a sobering reminder and figure for all of us," Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot said, while the city's virus numbers are improving, "We are not anywhere close to where we need to be."

Arwady said officials estimate 110,000 to 160,000 Chicagoans currently have active COVID infection, or about 1 in 17 Chicagoans. She also said some neighborhoods are still experiencing positivity rates as high as 26%.

"That's a tiny bit better than it was last week, where 1 in 15 Chicagoans had active COVID," Arwady said.

However, she said that means it's still not safe to gather in large groups, and people should be staying home as much as possible, except for essential activities like grocery shopping, going to work or school, or visiting the doctor.

While the city's positivity rate might be going down a bit, Arwady said hospitalizations are still climbing.

"That's to be expected, because unfortunately hospitalizations lag behind cases, ICU admissions lag behind hospitalizations, and then deaths lag behind that," she said.

As of Wednesday, more than 1,000 people are hospitalized with COVID in Chicago, with additional 300 virus patients in intensive care. Both numbers are four times higher than in earl October, and still rising, according to Arwady.

COVID deaths also have increased fourfold over the past four weeks, up to almost 100 deaths per week in Chicago.

"Even if this surge was done right now, we would not expect our deaths to peak for several weeks," Arwady said.

Arwady also cited a Facebook meme to make her point: "It's better to have a Zoom Thanksgiving than an ICU Christmas."

Meantime, with the first COVID-19 vaccine in line for emergency FDA authorization as soon as early December, Lightfoot and Arwady outlined plans for how the city would begin distributing the treatment.

The mayor said the city expects it will receive its first distribution of a vaccine before the end of the year, but she cautioned "widespread community distribution in Chicago, and for that matter nationwide, is still months away."

With only a limited amount of the vaccine available at first, priority will be given first to healthcare professionals and other frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19. After that, vaccines will be given to high-risk individuals such as nursing home residents and the elderly,

Arwady said she expects all adults will be able to get vaccinated sometime in 2021.

"Until then, we have to remain diligent on the things that we know are the tools that will protect us … wearing a mask, social distancing, regularly washing your hands, as well as staying home, avoiding travel, and again cancelling traditional Thanksgiving plans," she said.

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