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Yesterday, I participated in a call with Dr. Anthony Fauci and other mayors from around the country organized by the Bloomberg Harvard Cities Initiative. Dr. Fauci’s message was clear: We are moving from staying-at-home to limited physical interaction with one another, and in doing so, it is essential that we each keep a healthy distance (six feet) from one another, wear a face covering, wash our hands regularly, and isolate ourselves if we are sick.
The importance of following these health and safety guidelines is especially clear today, as we learned of the passing of Hecky Powell, a beloved member of our community who dedicated his life to serving others – both at his famous restaurant and through his active involvement in our community. We also mourn, among the 27 confirmed dead, the passing of a renowned Northwestern professor and scholar, Riad Ismat, who escaped Syria to teach in Evanston, and a devoted mother, Mary “Cherry” Santiago, who was just weeks away from seeing her oldest son graduate from ETHS.
The losses in our community and elsewhere are a call to action; a reminder that our work is far from done, and that it’s essential that we all do our part to slow the spread and save lives.
In this message, I’ll share the good news, the bad news, and what we can learn from the 1918 pandemic in our response to COVID-19.
The Good News
Contact Tracing: Since our first confirmed case of COVID-19, the Evanston Health and Human Services Department, with the help of our Medical Reserve Corps, has performed contact tracing on Evanston’s confirmed cases. This has resulted in close to 1,000 quarantine and isolation orders and instructions, greatly reducing the number of individuals potentially spreading the virus to others.
Infection Rate: The rate of infection in Evanston is significantly less relative to our neighboring communities. In Evanston, we have 83 confirmed cases per 10,000 residents. In Skokie and Chicago, the number is 117 and 147, respectively. This positive news is due in large part to the fact that Evanston conducts full and complete contact tracing on our confirmed cases. It’s the reason you see a big push by the Governor to hire contact tracers statewide.
Slowing the Pace: The time it takes for confirmed cases to double is now a month; meaning our efforts to slow the pace of the infections is working, thereby flattening the curve and relieving the strain on our health care system.
Average Daily Confirmed Cases Decline: Our 7-day moving average has decreased from a peak of 15 confirmed cases a day to 11.5. The number of cases has fluctuated, and tends to increase when bulk testing is completed or state testing capacity increases.
The Northeast Illinois Region is on Track to Move to ‘Phase 3 – Recovery’ on May 29: If the metrics hold for the next week, we are on track to move into “Phase 3 – Recovery” of the Governor’s Restore Illinois plan. This means, among other things, that effective May 29, gatherings of up to 10 people will be permitted, more businesses will be allowed to reopen, restaurants may open for outdoor dining only, and additional outdoor recreation opportunities will be available. However, all of these activities must operate within the strict health and safety guidelines provided by our public health officials. As we move to Phase 3, it’s critical that each of us remains vigilant about practicing physical distancing, wearing a face covering in public settings where physical distancing is impractical, and washing hands frequently.
The Bad News
Fatalities Rise: Since my last message, we have seen the number of fatalities rise dramatically from 18 to 27. Our total number of confirmed cases now stands at 620, with a fatality rate of 4.4 percent. The fatality rate for the state is 4.5 percent and 6 percent for the country.
Deaths will always be a lagging indicator, but it’s the most painful metric, because behind each of these numbers is a mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandparent, friend, a neighbor; someone who, like each of us, called Evanston home.
The History – What we can learn from the 1918 Pandemic
To guide us out of this pandemic, it’s helpful to know how our predecessors fared the last time Evanstonians encountered a pandemic – the 1918 H1N1 Influenza, also referred to as the “Spanish Flu.” This week, the Daily Northwestern issued an excellent 10-minute multimedia news story titled, What Evanston’s response to the 1918 Flu can tell us about COVID-19? The relevant takeaways:
Don’t get complacent. Evanston imposed two separate citywide quarantines in 1918; one in October and one in December that ran through the holidays.
Do not gather in large groups. The second quarantine occurred, in part, because large gatherings, such as the celebration of the end of World War I and a visit by former President William Howard Taft, drew hundreds of people, some of whom inevitably spread the flu to one another.
Act quickly to address outbreaks. In 1918, Evanston was the last community on the North Shore to issue a quarantine notice, allowing schools, churches, and movie theaters to operate even when there were over 200 cases and 18 deaths.
The public health authorities’ response in 2020 is very much informed by what it has learned over the last 100 years. Many of the mistakes made in 1918 can be avoided if we heed the advice of our public health officials. That is why I am asking all of you and your applicable organizations to do your part and comply with their directives and guidance. I do not want to see us encounter a second wave, which would require all of us to return to our homes.
The City and organizations throughout Evanston, including our businesses, nonprofits, and houses of worship, are working on plans to operate safely and in accordance with all guidelines issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health through all phases of recovery. While still under development, I can tell you that:
- Tennis courts have reopened for singles play only with strict guidelines
- City staff is exploring street closings to provide more dedicated space for walking, biking, dining and other activities. The City Council will be discussing this at its next meeting on Tuesday, May 26 at 5 p.m.
- The Dempster Street Launch Facility will open on June 1 with conditions
See the City’s recent update on outdoor recreation and summer programming for more details.
In closing, remember, no one knows where we are in the continuum of this pandemic. What’s generally agreed upon by the experts is that (1) there will be outbreaks, (2) to manage the outbreaks we initially need to limit the amount of physical interaction between people (to 10 or under during the recovery phase), and (3) that with limited interaction, available testing, and contact tracing we ought to be able to contain the spread so that it’s manageable for our health care systems.
We owe it to all those who have passed, their families, and our neighbors to continue to follow the guidance of Dr. Fauci and our public health officials, and continue to do our part to slow the spread of this infectious disease.
Be well, and thank you for your continued efforts on behalf of our community.
Stephen H. Hagerty
Mayor, City of Evanston