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Where to go and what to do during Chicago’s coronavirus outbreak

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Illinois issued a ‘stay-at-home’ order—here’s what you should know.

An el train passes on elevated tracks between buildings. Getty Images

As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, there are a number of precautions to take like social distancing and working from home. In Chicago, local leaders are adding to that list to ensure all residents are avoiding large groups and staying at home—aldermen have closed the Lakefront Trail, The 606 Trail, and the adjoining parks.

Under a state-wide, “stay-at-home” order until April 7, the daily life and routines of most residents will be much different in the coming weeks. For Chicagoans, this measure means staying inside and only making necessary trips for groceries or medical care.

“This is not a lockdown or martial law. Chicago’s grocery stores, pharmacies, and clinics will remain open,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a press conference to announce the order on Friday, March 20. “The CTA will run, airports will be open, and your garbage will be picked up.”

When officials first made the announcement, they emphasized that it wasn’t a lockdown and residents could still go outside for walks and exercise. Despite the order to stay inside, local parks, playgrounds, trails, and the lakefront were packed—especially on Wednesday which saw warmer, sunny weather.

In response, Mayor Lightfoot warned that she’d shut down the city’s parks, trails, and lakefront—and less than a day later local aldermen announced the immediate closure of Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, The 606 Trail, and adjoining parks.

On Wednesday, Lightfoot had warned:

“I understand people are frustrated at being stuck in our homes and anxious to get outside and move around. And you can do that, but you must do it in a way that is smart, that is maintaining social distance, and not congregating in other locations with lots of other people... While it is acceptable to leave your homes to go on walks near your homes, and to purchase food and other essentials, you have to stay at home as much as possible. You cannot go on long bike rides, walks, runs along the lakefront.”

As of Monday, March 27 there were 73 deaths, 5,057 total cases with 3,727 in Cook County—the Chicago Tribune is tracking the data here. Daily updates come from local officials which you can catch on livestream via Twitter and Facebook.


City and state parks: On Monday, March 16 Illinois closed state parks, recreation areas, and historic sites until further notice. Those areas include places popular tourist destinations like Starved Rock, Chain O’ Lakes, and Goose Lake Prairie.

And now, as of Thursday, March 26, the Lakefront Trail, The 606 Trail, and adjoining parks are closed. Chicago Parks were previously open offering free activities for students out of school until the state issued the “stay-at-home” order. All park fieldhouses, facilities, and playgrounds are closed until April 7.

Our advice? Rather than trekking to a park or walking the same, populated route—explore your own neighborhood, choose-your-own-adventure style. If you’re in Oak Park, you can use this Frank Lloyd Wright walking tour map and create a personalized path. Find out if you have any historic districts in your neighborhood—there are 106 across the entire city—and turn your time outside into a mini architecture tour.

Chicago public libraries: Libraries are closed for the duration of the stay-at-home order. Previously, they were open under basic operations. The Newberry Library, which isn’t part of the Chicago Public Library system, did decide to close at least until March 23.

Chicago museums have closed: Even before the “stay-at-home” order, most of Chicago’s institutions and museums had closed. Thankfully, there are plenty that have engaging online archives and collections to explore while you’re at home.

The CTA is still open: The transit authority is following best practices and making sure trains and buses are on a “rigorous” daily and deep cleaning schedule. Workers disinfect seats, handrails, turnstiles, and all high-contact areas. Transit will remain open for all essential workers at grocery stores, hospitals, and clinics.

Chicago has banned public and private gatherings: In mid-March, Chicago planned to ban large gatherings of 50 people or more for a month. Now under the new “stay-at-home” order, any group activities are no longer allowed.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t go outside. Residents are still free to take a walk and go out with their pets to get fresh air.

Illinois issued a state disaster proclamation: On Monday, March 9 Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation, our version of a state of emergency. This is the first step toward obtaining federal funding to help with the pandemic and organizing the state’s resources for a coordinated effort.

Election and polling places: Illinois’ Primary Election was on Tuesday, March 17. There were lots of concerns about how the novel coronavirus would affect the safety of polling places and voter turnout. There’s no question that the COVID-19 outbreak made election day chaotic and a risky outing for some vulnerable people.

Major design and housewares shows: A few of the major design shows that closed ahead of the order include: The Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier, One of a Kind Show at the Merchandise Mart, and The Inspired Home Show at McCormick Place.

Working from home: If you’re office hadn’t already mandated a work-from-home policy, it must now. Need tips on how to make your home office more feasible? We’ve got expert advice here.