Following the surge in cases caused by the Omicron variant, it’s become increasingly clear that COVID-19 won’t be going away entirely anytime soon, if ever, and we must continue to adapt and balance many public health, social and economic considerations as we determine our path forward.
As we continue to navigate this very challenging time, I truly appreciate our community’s continued adherence to public health guidance, and your steadfast support for one another. The past two years have been difficult for all – but especially difficult for some. Your courtesy, kindness, caring and generosity has helped see many of our neighbors through this difficult period.
Along with the rest of Illinois, Evanston will enter the next phase of the pandemic on February 28, when the City’s Health & Human Services Department will lift its vaccination and indoor masking mandates consistent with Governor Pritzker’s timeline.
It is clear from all the conversations I’ve had and emails I’ve received recently that many people in our community are watching this round of decisions extremely closely, with very strong preferences regarding the outcome. I appreciate all this input and passion, and I hope that those with emphatic desires can recognize and respect the extremely broad range of opinions held by our neighbors.
I’ve heard from business owners who see the mandates as crushing their livelihood…and business owners who only feel safe showing up to work because of those mandates. I’ve heard from residents who are spending their money out of town because of our mandates…and residents who will stop patronizing Evanston businesses if the mandates are lifted. I’ve heard from parents who see school mask mandates as impairing the mental health and normalcy of their children’s daily lives…and parents whose kids would be terribly anxious to sit and learn in close quarters with a bunch of unmasked classmates (my own children are in this latter category, incidentally).
I cherish and take into consideration all the feedback I receive, but ultimately the City’s decisions are not dictated exclusively by our estimates of public opinion but rather by data, together with a basic set of principles regarding risk assessment and tradeoffs. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some thoughts about these principles.
First of all, as I indicated a few paragraphs back, it is unclear when, if ever, COVID-19 will be truly gone. Consequently, we must prepare ourselves for keeping certain high-impact less-disruptive mitigations in place over the long haul. These include, for instance, the City’s vaccine mandate for our staff, City Council, and members of Boards, Committees, and Commissions. I believe we should keep these in place as long as COVID-19 is a meaningful presence in our lives, because they have a major impact on health and safety, and because it is a reasonable and modest step for the City, as an employer, to impose this mandate on our own team.
On the other hand, we must also be willing to roll back more aggressive mitigations when the relevant numbers become low enough – to decline to do so would be to impose indefinite mandates. And while I think it is reasonable for the City to expect our own team to be vaccinated for the foreseeable future, it is far more intrusive to force employees of local businesses to act as the vaccination status police. There’s a reason that we view health care data as extremely private, and mandating that patrons of local businesses disclose it to employees – in other words, mandating the transmission of health care data between two individuals who are involved in a private business transaction that is only connected to the City of Evanston by an accident of location – is a very dramatic step. I absolutely believe this was the right thing to do as the Omicron numbers went through the roof, and I still believe very strongly that everyone who is medically eligible should be vaccinated, but, in my opinion, the data no longer justify this intensity of intervention.
As you can see, we’re engaged in a nuanced balancing act. Today’s announcement isn’t a declaration of victory over COVID-19; on the contrary, it’s an acknowledgement that total victory is still quite distant, and therefore that we have to assess our policies based on the expectation that they will be kept in place for a long time. In the meantime, for those who are rejoicing about the lifting of mandates, the best way to ensure that we can keep these looser policies in place is to take steps to keep the infection rate low. (Also for those who aren’t rejoicing about the lifting of mandates, I hope you’ll also take steps to keep the infection rate low!)
Thank you as always for your input and your participation in our collaborative effort to keep people across our community safe. Please read on below for information and answers to frequently asked questions as we enter this new phase.
What measures were considered in the Evanston Health & Human Services Department’s decision to lift its vaccine and mask mandate on February 28?
COVID-19 hospitalizations as of February 23, 2022
Click image to enlarge.
Like most of the nation, Evanston’s COVID-19 metrics have improved dramatically over the last month. Evanston’s Health & Human Services Department has been closely monitoring the following metrics in determining mitigations:
Hospitalizations – Local COVID-19 hospitalizations have decreased nearly 85 percent in the last 30 days. Currently, there are 30 people hospitalized with COVID-19 illness at Evanston area hospitals, compared to a pandemic peak of 256.
Positivity rate – The City’s positivity rate is currently 0.93 percent, compared to a pandemic peak of 23.56 percent.
Daily cases – Evanston has seen a dramatic decrease in COVID-19 cases. Currently, our seven-day moving average of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases is 14, compared to a peak of 127 on January 12, 2022. Evanston’s confirmed cases continue to decrease and are approaching a lower transmission category.
Visit the City’s interactive COVID-19 Dashboard and COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard for metrics updated daily.
What mitigations will be lifted on February 28?
In alignment with the State of Illinois, the Cook County Department of Public Health and Chicago Department of Public Health, Evanston will be lifting its masking and vaccination mandates on Monday, February 28.
This means the City of Evanston’s Health & Human Services Department will no longer require masks to be worn in indoor public spaces, such as stores, recreation facilities, community centers, libraries, entertainment venues, restaurants, and other spaces. In addition, businesses and venues will no longer be required to verify patrons’ proof of vaccination.
View the mask order and vaccine order that will expire on February 28.
Can businesses still implement their own mask and/or vaccine mandates?
Yes, Evanston businesses and venues may choose to continue to implement their own mask and/or vaccine requirements for patrons after February 28.
Where will masks still be required after February 28?
After February 28, even with the change in local requirements, masks will continue to be required where mandated by the state or federal government to protect vulnerable populations, including:
Long-term care facilities
Congregate settings, such as shelters
Daycares should refer to Illinois DCFS guidance regarding masking.
Are masks still required in schools?
Via an executive order, Governor Pritzker and the State of Illinois continue to require masks in all public and private Pre-K-12 schools in the state. However, in the wake of a lawsuit filed by a number of schools in Illinois, many local school districts have chosen to act independently of this order and have implemented a mask-optional policy for students, teachers, staff and visitors.
The City’s Health and Human Services Department continues to recommend masks in schools, especially in crowded settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained, such as large indoor events.
Can I continue to wear a mask in public?
By all means, yes. Community members who are immunocompromised, have children under the age of 5 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, or are just more comfortable wearing a mask at this time are encouraged to do so. Recent guidance from the CDC states that while all masks and respirators provide some level of protection, properly fitted respirators – such as an N95 or KN95 – provide a higher level of protection.
To help community members stay safe, the City distributed KN95 masks at four Evanston locations earlier today, and will be planning additional distribution events in the future. KN95 and N95 masks are also available for purchase at reputable retailers, such as hardware stores, pharmacies and other locations.
Will the City of Evanston’s vaccine mandate for staff continue?
Yes, the City will continue to maintain its mandatory vaccination policy for all City of Evanston staff, City Council, members of Boards, Committees, and Commissions, contractors, volunteers, interns, seasonal and part-time workers. Currently, 89 percent of City staff are fully vaccinated, and the remaining 11 percent of staff must complete weekly COVID-19 testing.
Is it possible the City will reissue a mask or vaccine mandate in the future?
Yes, although we certainly hope that won’t be necessary. As communicated at the beginning of this message, current public health metrics are trending in a positive direction, and the Evanston Health & Human Services Department, in concert with the State of Illinois, believes it is now appropriate to lift its mask and vaccine mandates.
For the last two years and counting, COVID-19 has continued to surprise all of us. The City of Evanston is prepared to reinstitute these and other public health measures in the future should they become necessary – and we encourage you to be prepared for this potential outcome as well.
I thank you for your continued adherence to public health guidance, and just as importantly, I thank you for your patience, flexibility and kindness towards one another as we continue to move forward together.
Mayor, City of Evanston