The Chicago New Year's Eve tradition will return after a year off because of COVID-19, and city leaders say midnight fireworks will be back and bigger than ever this weekend.
While the police department is making sure they are ready to handle any and all crowds that do come out, the message coming from City Hall Wednesday was to stay home, as your best view will be from the couch.
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"If you think it's the cold, if you think it's the flu, it's probably COVID," said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of Chicago Dept. of Public Health. "We need you to stay home."
It was a sobering message delivered by Chicago's top doctor two days before the new year. The city's positivity rate is now above 16% - up from 8.2% last week and 4% the week before that.
"I'm not going to be the mom and tell people what they should and shouldn't do, but I know what I'm going to do," Lightfoot said. "I'm going to be home watching on my television set and I encourage other people to take advantage of that."
For those who do want to come downtown to celebrate, there is an elaborate plan in place. The 1.5-mile long fireworks show extending from the Orleans Street Bridge all the way to the lake will no doubt be spectacular. But the reasoning behind it has much to do with public health.
"There was a conscious decision made, not only that it's outdoors, but to spread it out so we don't have massive crowds gathering in one place," Lightfoot said.
Fireworks will be launched from five bridges and two river launch points along the Main Branch of the Chicago River. Already, barricades have been pre-positioned along Wacker Drive to put into place an elaborate set of sidewalk and bridge closures starting at 4 p.m. Friday and continuing until half an hour after midnight.
Officials reassured those who do want to come out, that there will be enough resources not just downtown, but elsewhere around the city.
"Resources are dedicated not only for crowd control, but also aggressive traffic control plan to get people in and out, ingress, egress on freeways, ramps etc, as well as our violent zones throughout the city, making sure our neighborhoods are safe as well," Brown said.
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Fireworks coordinator John Murray is preparing the elaborate fireworks show for the city that will span 1.5 miles from Wolf Point on the Chicago River to the lake, with eight different launch points on the river and bridges. The show will be synchronized and choreographed to music.
"Because the river is such a great vista and you can get that great view, you can do some interesting things with the fireworks in a way that brings the whole river to life," said John Murray, fireworks coordinator.
And after a year of dealing with the pandemic, many Chicagoans and tourists are looking forward to some normalcy.
"We are thrilled about that to be together with family again," said Lisa Allyn.
Even as the number of COVID cases continue to spike, city leaders say they will move forward with fireworks to celebrate the new year-- but safety will remain a top priority. Proof of vaccination or a negative test within the last 72 hours will be required for all attendees. Regardless of vaccination status, everyone will have to wear masks indoors.
Still, some feel it is safer to watch on television.
"I think it's pretty cool but to be honest I'll be watching on TV. If I can stay up that late," said Jamilah Paddock.
Health experts say you can enjoy New Year's Eve safely, and wearing a mask is one of the most important ways to do it.
"Keep some distance so you are not swapping air with people that may be wanting to share a gift you don't want," said Dr. Ngozi Ezike of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The fireworks spectacular will make for quite a sight from swanky riverfront restaurants.
"It has been a great selling point because people want to be able to enjoy the fireworks," said Fallon McErlean, restaurant manager at The Kitchen. "They did such a great job with it in 2019."
That was a different world. New Years Eve 2021 will look much more like 2020, ringing in yet another year as COVID rages at its fastest rate yet. Pandemic precautions are the priority.
"How we pace our reservations, how many people we take in," McErlean said. "Keeping people safe and still being able to enjoy themselves."
"Am I worried? Yes, just because it's spreading amongst the city," said Cedric Harden, executive chef at River Roast. "We haven't had any issues here at the restaurant."
Tables are still widely spaced and River Roast will open its outdoor patio for people to safely toast midnight under Chicago's largest fireworks display ever.
"People are definitely welcome to come in, have a drink, be outside for the fireworks," Harden said.
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City officials believe the fireworks show is important for the hospitality industry in the city since restaurants and hotels expect large crowds. The show will last about five minutes along the river, but it will continue a bit longer on the east end at Navy Pier where restaurants and hotels are located.
Still, they are urging people to celebrate safely.
"New Year's is such a special time for all of us that it was important to the city to create an opportunity for folks to celebrate but do so in a ways that's very safe," said Samir Mayekar, vice mayor.
On Wednesday, Lightfoot and city officials urged attendees to report suspicious activity to 911, and said the Chicago Riverwalk will be closed early Friday to pedestrian traffic.
Streets and bridges in the Central Business District will close to all traffic as early as 11 p.m. on Friday and reopen about 12:30 a.m. Saturday.
Street, bridge and Riverwalk closures
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 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.
CTA service impact
CTA will be operating on a Sunday/Holiday schedule on Friday.
CTA is once again providing free bus and rail rides beginning 10 p.m. Friday until 4 a.m. Saturday; customers do not need to tap their Ventra Card or other payment methods to board buses or enter rail stations during this time.
Purple and Yellow line service hours will be extended until about 2 a.m.
Beginning as early as 10 p.m. and until as late as 2 a.m., the following CTA buses running north and south over the river will operate only to Wacker for the duration of the event: #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 buses in the vicinity of the fireworks, including those serving Wacker Drive and Navy Pier are subject to temporary, rolling reroutes to adjacent streets.
A complete listing of all CTA bus service impacts is available at www.transitchicago.com/travel-information/bus-status.
Increased security measures will be in place.
No boats are allowed to transit within the USCG Safety Zone, which includes the area just west of the Franklin Street bridge and continuing east of the Columbus Drive bridge.