Following new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control, Evanston Township High School will now require all students, faculty, and staff to wear masks while inside the school building.

ETHS had previously planned to require only unvaccinated individuals to mask up indoors. Those with COVID-19 shots could have gone maskless.

However, in a memo to the community, District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and ETHS Principal Marcus Campbell say the new mask mandate is a result of the rapidly increasing and more contagious Delta variant of the virus.

The administrators add that the Illinois Department of Public Health is endorsing the CDC mask recommendation.

While Witherspoon and Campbell say they are “encouraged by the high vaccination rate” in Evanston, the Delta variant makes extra vigilance necessary.

“The health and safety of our school community is our highest priority,” they say.

In addition to masks, ETHS will also include physical distancing, hand washing and contact tracing as part of the COVID mitigation plan.

“These layered prevention strategies,” Witherspoon and Campbell say, “will help ensure in-person learning every school day at ETHS.”

Classes begin at the high school on Aug. 16. Students will still need to provide proof of vaccination by Aug. 5, “in order to support contact tracing efforts at ETHS and follow guidance requiring quarantining.”

Any student who does not provide vaccination confirmation will be considered unvaccinated.

The head of the teachers union at ETHS endorsed the mask mandate. Teachers Council president Rick Cardis told Evanston Now the requirement makes sense.

“Despite the high vaccination rate in Evanston,” Cardis said, “it’s better to be safe. School leaders have said we will follow the science and that’s what we are doing with the updated policy today.”

The other local district, Evanston/Skokie 65, had previously announced a mask mandate for all students, teachers, and other employees. District 65 is the elementary and middle school feeder system for ETHS, and most of 65’s students are too young to qualify for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Only those 12 and over are eligible for the shots.

Both District 202 and 65 were on fully remote learning from the outset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, through earlier this year, when they adopted a part-in-person/part-remote hybrid structure.

Both districts will have full, in-person instruction with no remote learning this fall.

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