The pace of COVID vaccinations in Evanston is running ahead of the pace in Chicago, suburban Cook County and statewide.

City officials, using data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, say 89.3% of Evanstonians age 65 and over had been fully vaccinated as of Monday.

By contrast, the IDPH says 66.3% of Cook County residents 65 and over are fully vaccinated and the rate for the same group in Chicago is only 60%

The Evanston data shows 69.2% of residents age 16 to 64 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while the comparable levels are 46.1% in Chicago, 45.7% in Cook County and 42.4% across the state.

The higher vaccination rates are clearly a benefit to the health of Evanston residents, but given how people cross community lines in their day-to-day life, they may not provide any justification for slacking off on pandemic safety precautions that are being recommended across the state.

The Centers for Disease Control this morning did issue new guidance saying that Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus no longer need to wear masks outdoors if they’re walking, running, hiking or biking alone, with members of their household, or if they attend small outdoor gatherings.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Mayor Steve Hagerty said a problem seen elsewhere — of people not showing up to get a second shot — hasn’t turned out to be an issue in Evanston.

Besides opening mass vaccination sites, the state is now focusing on places like houses of worship and community organizations, trying to reach those who may have doubts about the shots.

In Evanston, that’s been going on already. Health Director Ike Ogbo tells Evanston Now that the city has made conscious efforts to reach every vaccine-eligible community member.

“We have sent and continue to send email notifications and call those who do not have internet/email or [are] technologically challenged, to get them registered for vaccinations,” he says.

Ogbo says Evanston has conducted vaccination events at congregate settings such as nursing homes, and has also been “intentional at vaccinating at our predominantly Black and brown churches,” with three such church-based events so far. Across the nation, Evanston included, individuals of color have lower vaccination rates than do white residents, so reaching out to potentially vulnerable groups is critical.

The city has also done many Coronavirus Q and A broadcasts, including in Spanish. A Vaccination Communications Work Group was created to help get the word out, particularly to minority group members.

Ogbo says the city plans to have events at other venues, to make vaccinations even more accessible. He says that for about a month, Evanston has also been providing in-home shots for those who are vulnerable and unable to attend in-person clinics.

“This is an effort,” he says, “to meet our community members where they are in order to get them vaccinated. I do not know many communities that have employed this strategy,” he adds.

As for whether Evanston is an “island” of high vaccination rates surrounded by an “ocean” of lower rates, Ogbo says that should not pose a risk of more COVID spreading here.

“We have not experienced a significant risk of nearby areas with lower vaccination rates,” he says.

“We continue to conduct surveillance and monitor our caseload, and have placed effective measures to ensure that COVID-19 transmission is controlled in our community.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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