Daily new COVID-19 cases in Evanston from Sept. 1 through Dec. 20. (Screenshot via Evanston COVID-19 Dashboard)

New cases of COVID-19 reported in Evanston hit a record high Friday, Dec. 17, with the city reporting 161 positive tests. In addition to reporting 161 new cases, there were also two COVID deaths on Dec. 17. According to a Monday afternoon community notice from the city Health and Human Services Department, the seven-day rolling average of new daily COVID-19 positives in Evanston is now 93.57, compared with an average of 28.14 new cases per day just one week ago, on Dec. 13. There were 90 new cases and one death reported Monday, Dec. 20.

Reflecting this high level of community transmission, cases have also increased substantially in Evanston public schools. Evanston Township High School reported a record 129 new cases among students for the week ending Dec. 17, and on the afternoon of Dec. 16, the district moved the remaining class days before winter break online.

Meanwhile, in Evanston/Skokie School District 65, a record 58 students tested positive for the virus between Dec. 14 and Dec. 17, sending a total of 520 students across the district into COVID-19-related quarantine. On Monday, the district also reported 18 new cases among Nichols Middle School students since Dec. 17.

The RoundTable contacted representatives from both ETHS and District 65 about plans for the spring semester and slowing community transmission of COVID-19 in schools, but the two districts did not immediately respond by the time this story was published.

Over the last seven days, Northwestern University also reported case rates that easily surpassed previous highs in COVID-19 positives, with the university registering 476 new positives among students, faculty and staff between Dec. 13 and Dec. 19. That total resulted in a 12.9% positivity rate during the last week at Northwestern.

Amid the outbreak at the school, Northwestern Vice President for Operations Luke Figora sent an email to students Monday afternoon announcing that the first two weeks of winter courses will be conducted online only, and the university is now requiring all eligible students to receive a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine by Jan. 30 or 30 days after becoming eligible, whichever date is latest.

“As COVID-19 cases increase substantially in Evanston and throughout the region, I strongly encourage all community members to remain vigilant and follow public health guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 and avoid overwhelming healthcare systems,” said Evanston Health and Human Services Director Ike Ogbo in Monday’s message to the community. “With life-saving vaccines widely available, we have the tools necessary to prevent severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. If you’re not yet vaccinated or haven’t received your booster shot, don’t wait. Get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

And, beyond getting vaccinated or boosted, the city added that wearing masks when gathering outside your household and maintaining distance whenever possible remain key aspects of mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

With Christmas Eve approaching this Friday, the RoundTable also reached out to several houses of worship and faith centers in the community to see if in-person services over the holiday weekend will go on as scheduled. Currently, most churches plan to hold in-person Christmas Eve services as planned, with livestream options available to those who prefer to stay home amid the rise in coronavirus cases. Second Baptist Church is conducting a virtual-only Christmas Day service, with regular in-person services on Sunday, Dec. 26.

Beth Emet Synagogue and the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation hold most of their services remotely, but they both occasionally offer limited in-person worship with required registration ahead of time.

The RoundTable will be providing regular COVID-19 updates this week leading up to the holiday weekend and the new year, so check our website each morning or sign up for our daily email newsletter for up-to-date information on new virus cases and any city closures.

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...