Students in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 will now be able to feel the cold winter wind on their entire faces outdoors.

Effective on Monday, February 14, the district is dropping its requirement that students, staff, and visitors mask up when they are outdoors during school arrival, dismissal, recess, and other potential outside activities.

In a website message to the community, Superintendent Devon Horton says “We have made the decision, in consultation with our medical advisors and local health department, to lift outdoor masking requirements for the time being.”

Horton says the decision is based on decreasing numbers of COVID-19 cases within the schools and community, and “also the science that the risk of transmission outdoors is extremely low.”

A look at the COVID dashboard shows there were 38 new cases of the virus among the district’s 6,800 students (preK-8) for the week of February 7-11. That compares to 127 new cases for January 17-21.

The superintendent does say that physical distancing should be maintained while outside and unmasked. He also asks that “any individuals who remain unvaccinated or not up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations continue to mask outdoors when distancing cannot” be kept.

The disrict is not saying how, if at all, that unvaccinated individuals would be identified in a crowd of unmasked children. The request that the unvaccinated wear masks if they cannot physically distance appears to be completely voluntary.

The superintendent also says that those who feel more comfortable wearing a mask outside “are encouraged to do so.”

Masks are still required inside school buildings for everyone, except when eating. Masks remain required outdoors for several days for those returning from COVID isolation or quarantine.

And if there is anything that we have learned over the past two years of the pandemic, it’s that nothing regarding COVID can be counted on as permanent.

Horton notes “In the event that there is another surge within our community or there is any evidence of increased transmission within our schools, the decision may be made to require masking outdoors” again.

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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