Students leave ETHS after the last day of in-person instruction on Thursday, Dec. 16. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

Evanston Township High School reported a record 129 new COVID-19 positive test results among students and 11 new positive cases among staff for the week ending Friday, Dec. 17, according to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard. There are 143 students and 13 staff members currently in quarantine.

That update came just one day after Superintendent Eric Witherspoon announced a suspension of all in-person learning and in-person activities for the remaining school days prior to winter break.

Witherspoon described the shift to remote learning for the rest of the semester as an “adaptive pause” that “is intended to reduce the transmission of COVID while allowing students to continue instruction remotely with their teachers and during their regular schedules.” 

According to an email from Witherspoon to ETHS families sent Dec. 14, the school identified 53 positive cases of COVID-19 between Monday, Dec. 13 and Tuesday, Dec. 14 alone, although Witherspoon did not specify if that number included just students or students and staff who had tested positive. To put that case rate in perspective, a total of 52 ETHS students tested positive for the coronavirus from Aug. 16 through Dec. 10. 

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases also continue to spike across the city of Evanston as a whole. The city reported the highest number of new positive cases among residents at any point of the pandemic on consecutive days Dec. 16 and 17. Friday alone saw 161 new positives in the community, and the seven-day average of new cases is currently 65.

Evanston also reported two COVID-19 deaths on Dec. 17, the first coronavirus-related deaths in the city since Dec. 1.

These rapid increases in community transmission of the virus are occurring as the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 has started to rage across the country and the globe. Scientists estimate that Omicron is two to three times as contagious as the Delta variant, which took hold in the United States over the summer.

Early research has also shown that two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are not as effective in combating Omicron, demonstrating why many breakthrough cases are occurring amid the Omicron surge. Receiving a booster shot offers strong protection against the variant, scientists have said, and getting boosted as soon as possible represents the best way to protect both yourself and the people around you.

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...