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The American Eagle illuminated for the #LightItBlue campaign supporting essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Six Flags Great America photo)

The American Eagle should have been weeks away from welcoming its first riders of the season. Instead, the roller coaster was glowing in bright blue light on Thursday night, honoring the efforts of first responders, healthcare professionals and essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Six Flags Great America won’t be opening this month. The company says their 2020 season will not begin until mid-May at the earliest. Behind the scenes, the park has been gathering supplies to help in the COVID-19 relief effort and donating them to local organizations.

“Great America is in the process of donating approximately 14,000 pieces of potential PPE to healthcare workers in our surrounding communities,” said Communications Manager Caitlin Kepple. “Supplies include N95 masks, surgical facemasks, gloves, gowns, head coverings and Six Flags ponchos to be used as an extra layer of protection.”

Photo: Six Flags Great America

Those supplies have been sent to medical systems in Highland Park, Oak Park and Rock Island. Six Flags says they are also working with the City of Chicago to see that additional supplies get into the hands of medical professionals there.

Questions remain about when theme parks like Six Flags Great America will be able to operate again, and what those operations might look like. On Thursday, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said there is early evidence the state is beginning to “bend the curve” of infections, but he also cautioned the public about gathering in large numbers.

“I think everyone needs to think seriously about cancelling large summer events,” Pritzker said. “From my perspective today I don’t see how we’re going to have large gatherings of people until we have a vaccine which is months and months away.”

What will this mean for places where large amounts of people gather like theme parks? Will places like Six Flags Great America be allowed to operate before a vaccine is ready? And what kind of changes could we see to the theme park experience moving forward, post COVID-19?

These are all questions that will need to be answered. For now, the focus remains on fighting the pandemic, and supporting the healthcare professionals, first responders and essential workers instrumental in that fight.

“The safety and wellness of our guests and team members remains our highest priority,” Kepple told me. “As a proud member of our community, it’s important to Six Flags Great America that we support our local first responders in any way we can.”