Northalsted Market Days festival kicks off Friday as Chicago COVID cases rise

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's Market Days festival kicked off in the Northalsted neighborhood Friday as health officials keep a close eye on summer events with COVID cases rising.

Organizers are trying to make the event as safe as possible after they had to cancel last year due to the pandemic.

"It's been two years since we've had the festival and we're really looking forward to it, especially knowing a lot of us put in the work to get vaccinated," said Niko Drake, manager, Replay Beer and Bourbon.

"Everyone's just happy to be out and gay and celebrating life," attendee James Tate said.

The half-mile long festival in the Northalsted/Lakeview area typically draws 100,000 people. It includes all-day lineups of live music, more than 250 vendors along with plenty of food and drink.

Market Days organizers are asking everyone to wear masks if they're not vaccinated. Free rapid COVID tests will be offered at the entrance. Results come back within 15 minutes.

Festivalgoer Stephen Vullo said he's vaccinated, but still took a test. His result was negative after returning from a trip...

"We're in the middle of another wave, mostly among the unvaccinated, but we are seeing more and more breakthrough cases," he explained.

"Obviously we can't say who can or cannot be on the street based upon their vaccination status, but we're really emphasizing to people that it's important to take care of or yourself," said Mark Liberson, chair, Northalsted Market Days.

Also many bars and businesses along Halsted are requiring proof of vaccination for entry, including bars like Hydrate.

"The community has been very positive about the vaccine requirement," Liberson said. "People are actually excited to finally have a use for their cards."

"The LGBTQ+ community is here for one another," attendee Jack Nader said. "I mean, we've been through crisis after crisis, so we know that we need to be safe."

And just a few blocks away, thousands more people filled the streets near Wrigley Field as the Crosstown Classic gets underway.

"We're fully vaxxed so we're not super worried," said Ariel Peters. "We'll wear our masks if we need to."

"It's good to be back, although, unfortunately things might be going the other way with masks. That's painful," Cubs fan David Rosso said. "Get vaccinated, people!"

"We were out here a year ago and it's vastly different, so it's getting real nice to see some faces, go to places that were closed and see some new opened places," said Wesley Marhsall, a Sox fan in town for the Crosstown Classic. "It's a world of a difference. Hopefully it stays that way."

Businesses in Wrigleyville are embracing the return of those large crowds while reconsidering some of their safety protocols.

"We may move into maybe wearing masks," said Geraldo Bernaldez, general manager, Diver at the Park. "As far as letting only people with vaccinations in, probably not. Like I said, I'm not trying to alienate anybody."

Market Days kicked off at 5 p.m. Friday and runs through Sunday night.
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