Mayor Daniel Biss says Evanston will lift its COVID-19 indoor masking and vaccination requirements along with the rest of the state on Feb. 28.
Because Evanston has its own health department, the city decides independently of whatever policy is enacted by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
However, the mayor says Evanston will use the same time line as Pritzker has announced for the rest of Illinois. (The City of Chicago, which also has its own health department, is lifting requirements on the 28th as well).
In a newsletter, Biss says, “It’s become increasingly clear that COVID-19 won’t be going away entirely anytime soon, if ever,” so we must “adapt and balance” public health, social and economic considerations moving forward.
Despite lifting the indoor mask requirement for stores, dining establishments and other venues and ending proof-of-vaccination for restaurants and bars, the mayor says, “We must prepare ourselves for keeping certain high-impact, less-disruptive mitigations in place over the long haul.”
Those mandates include COVID vaccinations for city staff, elected officials and commission members.
However, Biss also says, “We must 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.”
Case positivity and hospitalization rates have dropped dramatically in recent weeks.
The mayor notes that while it is “reasonable” for city staff to have to be vaccinated, “it is far more intrusive to force employees of local businesses to act as the vaccination status police.”
Biss says he’s heard from business owners who believe the mandates are hurting them, as well as from residents who will refuse to shop in Evanston stores if the regulations are lifted.
“As you can see,” the mayor says, “we’re engaged in a nuanced balancing act.”
He adds that his announcement “isn’t a declaration of victory over COVID-19,” but rather an acknowledgement that some mitigation measures will be needed long term, while others can be dropped, based on health and hospitalization data.
The mayor says Evanston businesses and venues can implement vaccine or mask requirements on their own once the city lifts the municipal regulation.
Masks will still be required under federal guidelines in health care settings and public transportation. Biss says Evanstonians are, of course, welcome to wear masks anywhere if they so desire.
School mask requirements, which are separate from the city’s regulations, remain a work in progress.
Evanston Township High School is lifting its mask mandate, but indoor masking is still the rule in Evanston/Skokie District 65, at least for now.
In a release late Wednesday afternoon, District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton says district leaders are talking with health experts and district union officials on what to do next, in a “thoughtful” and “collaborative” decision-making process.
“At this time,” however, Horton notes, “masks continue to be required indoors.”
He says District 65 will have an update next week.
School masking has led to strong emotions on both sides of the question.
Mayor Biss says he’s “heard from parents who see school mask mandates as imparing 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.”
Biss notes his own children “are in the latter category, incidentally.”
And, of course, with COVID-19, nothing seems to be permanent.
If health metrics deteriorate, with more case positivity and hospitalization, Biss says the regulations which are being lifted might have to be imposed once again, “and we encourage you to be prepared for this potential outcome as well.”