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I traveled to a COVID-19 hot spot. Did I learn anything?

I traveled to Chicago to meet with friends. It was Lollapalooza weekend. Did I learn anything about COVID-19 and the delta variant?

Festival goers seen on Day 4 of the Lollapalooza Music Festiva.
Festivalgoers are seen on day 4 of the Lollapalooza Music Festival on Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021, at Grant Park in Chicago.
Amy Harris/Invision/Associated Press

The trip had been in the works for years.

The Retreat is what we called it. My friends — who I last saw in 2019 back in Massachusetts — wanted to meet up for a little getaway sometime in 2020. We put it off because of the pandemic, like many others who put off things last year. But the promise held strong. We wanted to meet up again after the pandemic ended (or at least after we were vaccinated) to celebrate the return to normal.

We all got our shots (three of us got Moderna, one of us got Pfizer). We chose a destination — Chicago. It’s right in the middle for all of us. Flights were affordable. It’d be a new city for some of us. Something different. We figured we’d all be vaccinated. We’d have a chance to reunite after one heck of a year. A retreat for us all before the next time we meet — like a pre-wedding festivity when one of us is ready to walk down the aisle.

It all seemed great. The sun on the retreat shined. But slowly, the storm clouds entered the fray. COVID-19 cases were rising. The delta variant was soaring. News about face masks for the vaccinated, questions about Cape Cod, concerns about vaccine effectiveness ...

All that culminated with this last weekend.

We chose Chicago because it seemed like a fun option. Now, Chicago has become the epicenter of a potential superspreader event.

Chicago has become something of a COVID-19 hot spot right now. Or, at least one that health officials are eyeing as the next hot spot because a number of people flocked to the city. For example, close to 100,000 people visited Grant Park in Chicago for the Lollapalooza concert, which included acts such as Miley Cyrus, Post Malone, the Foo Fighters and Megan Thee Stallion. Later, reports suggested up to 385,000 people had attended the concert in some fashion.

Chicago has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases as of late, related delta variant. And that’s on top of the coronavirus spike across the world — mostly associated with the delta variant.

Photos of the event show everything you need to know — packed crowds in the park, shoulder to shoulder. Of course, Lollapalooza required either a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination for entry. There were some reports that people were faking their COVID-19 vaccine statuses in order to get into the concert. But in large part, there needed to be some proof that you were safe from spreading the novel coronavirus in order to attend.

But still, there was a risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that people who have been fully vaccinated wear masks indoors again in certain situations, based on data that shows fully vaccinated people could spread the virus as quickly as chickenpox, according to the Deseret News.

So yeah, the delta variant could easily spread at Lollapalooza. It could easily be hovering in Chicago. Thoughts circulated in my head. How many people did I walk by that were infected? We walked close to Lollapalooza and definitely went to outdoor restaurants with people sitting nearby. How many people were vaccinated? Was someone with the delta variant sitting next to me an outdoor restaurant? Did someone infected with COVID-19 walk in front of me at our hotel?

These questions may seem like panic. But they’re very real thoughts. So I decided to play everything safe. So what did I do?

I wore a mask almost the entire time. I double-masked on my flight, sitting in the Delta Comfort+ section where there’s more room between travelers. While walking through the crowded streets of Chicago, I donned a mask. When we were inside, I followed the rules of the city and wore a mask. Even in the hallways of our hotel, I wrote a mask. Sure, I took it off to eat or drink outside — thankfully Chicago has been graced with outdoor restaurants and eateries as of late, a blessing in disguise — and I wouldn’t wear a mask when we were outside in an empty place. But for the most part, I wore the mask, adding a guard to my vaccinated body. But I also wore it to protect others. I trust the COVID-19 vaccine. But I wanted that extra layer — so I could protect myself and any unvaccinated person there. I didn’t know who was unvaccinated in Chicago. I didn’t know who hadn’t gotten their jabs and who remained vulnerable to whatever variant I could have been carrying.

It’s still a weird feeling. I’m waiting to see if COVID-19 symptoms show up, or if they don’t but I still test positive. But, like I told one of my friends, this is a moment where you have to trust the mRNA vaccines. You have to trust the science and trust that the vaccine does work. It’s a real test, sure, but it’s a moment where your faith comes into play. You believe in something and you have to put that faith to the test.

That said, there was a recent article in The Atlantic that really gave me hope that everything will be OK. It talked about how we need both to stay safe — vaccines and masks. Vaccines give our body the right security system and the masks give us even more protection.

I don’t know what will happen next. I hope I will not get COVID-19 from being in Chicago. But this was a glimpse into our new reality. High transmission rates might pop up sporadically across the country. COVID-19 may become endemic — like the flu. So when you face the inevitability of the virus, what do you do? Do you trust the science and the vaccine? Do you do what you can to stay safe? Do you sacrifice faceless selfies for a masked photo? Do you wear a mask to protect others? Do you do what you can for your fellow human?

I did. I tried, at least. Maybe going to Chicago wasn’t the right move. But I did what I could to stay safe. And I hope it pays off.

Clarification: Just wanted to clarify that I did not go to Lollapalooza. I went to the other side of Chicago. I did not attend the massive concert. Thank you for reading.