During a few wonderful weeks back in June and early July, it seemed COVID-19 might finally be in retreat. The City reported zero new COVID-19 cases for 18 of 20 consecutive days back then, which, together with the resumption of many activities that had been on hiatus, led many to breathe a sigh of relief after an incredibly difficult 15 months.
Unfortunately, that sentiment proved to be at least partially temporary as COVID-19 cases once again began to rise, both here and around the country. We now find ourselves back in that painfully familiar situation of weighing the risks before partaking in ordinary activities, like attending social gatherings, dining out, or sending our children to camp.
To help navigate the ever-evolving landscape of this pandemic, today I wanted to provide you with an update on the COVID-19 situation here in Evanston and answer a few of the frequently asked questions that I and our Health and Human Services Department have been receiving. Please read on.
Evanston has a high vaccination rate. Why are we seeing an increase in cases here?
As of last Monday, approximately 86 percent of residents 12 years and older have had at least one vaccine dose and 79 percent are fully vaccinated—that’s significantly higher than vaccination rates in Illinois and the U.S. (See below.)
Out of the 51,000 Evanston residents who are fully vaccinated, only two have later been hospitalized with COVID-related illness. That one statistic, in a nutshell, is why it’s so important for everyone who is medically eligible to get vaccinated. Vaccines have proven to be extremely effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
So why are we seeing an increase in cases? Although vaccines reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, it is still possible to contract and spread COVID-19 even if you’re fully vaccinated, and especially if you’re not. COVID-19 cases have increased at a concerning rate over the last month, driven particularly by those in the 20-29 age group (view cases by age over the last 30 days). And while there have only been three known cases of Delta so far in Evanston, the presence of this highly contagious COVID-19 variant is a significant issue of concern.
That’s one reason why the CDC, IDPH, Cook County, and our own Health & Human Services Department are asking community members to continue following public health guidance.
Speaking of which, can you clarify the latest rules regarding masks?
Yes. The City’s Health & Human Services Department is strongly endorsing CDC and IDPH guidance, which states that in areas of substantial or high transmission, all individuals two years and older — regardless of vaccination status — should wear a mask in public indoor spaces. Evanston is currently considered an area of substantial transmission, so you should wear a mask indoors in public. View current masking guidelines.
What are the current masking and vaccination policies of Evanston organizations?
Masking and vaccination requirements vary from organization to organization. Below are links to the current policies of some Evanston-based institutions.
- District 65
- Northwestern University
- NorthShore University HealthSystem
- AMITA Health St. Francis Hospital
The City is strongly encouraging all of its staff to be vaccinated. City employees and members of the public are required to wear a face covering in all public indoor City facilities.
So, cases are rising, masks are still a part of our lives…is there any good news?
Yes, actually. Although cases are rising — much like they did last fall — there’s one big difference: We now have a safe, effective and widely available COVID-19 vaccine, and the vast majority of our residents 12 years and older are vaccinated. And there’s more good news:
- Evanston has not recorded any COVID-19-related deaths since the end of May. This is partly due to the fact that more than 95 percent of Evanston residents 65 and older — who are among those most susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19 — are fully vaccinated.
- Hospitalizations are well below pandemic peaks. Although local COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen over the last month, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19-related illness is much lower than it has been throughout much of the pandemic. View local COVID-19 hospitalizations since April 2020.
- Our positivity rate is still relatively low. At 1.87 percent, the city’s positivity rate is significantly lower than Illinois Region 10 (suburban Cook County), which is currently 5 percent.
What can we expect in the weeks and months to come?
Maintaining situational awareness. Our City’s Health & Human Services Department will continue to monitor key data points closely — including positivity rates, daily confirmed cases, vaccination rates, and hospitalizations. Any decisions to loosen or tighten public health restrictions will continue to be based on this data and guidance from the IDPH and CDC.
Encouraging vaccinations. The City will continue to strongly encourage all eligible individuals to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The City continues to offer pop-up vaccinations at community events in coordination with Evanston organizations, and will be analyzing vaccination data to determine where to focus our efforts in the weeks to come. The bottom line: The more residents who are vaccinated, the safer our entire community will be.
Providing third doses to immunocompromised individuals. On Friday, the FDA amended the emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to allow for the use of an additional dose in certain immunocompromised individuals. Public health agencies, including our Health & Human Services Department, are awaiting additional information and direction from the IDPH about who fits this criteria and we will provide any updates via the City’s Thursday e-Newsletter.
The one constant in this pandemic has been change. As frustrating, scary and difficult as it may be, I ask that we all continue to adapt to this very fluid situation, follow the guidance of our public health agencies, protect one another by wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, and — most importantly — encourage everyone 12 years and older to get the vaccine if they haven’t yet.
We are not yet out of this pandemic, and it’s become clear that we may be dealing with COVID-19 in one form or another for some time. The good news is, we have more tools at our disposal than ever before to help limit its spread.
Thank you and be well,
Mayor, City of Evanston