The City of Evanston reported 107 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, Dec. 21, bringing the seven-day average of daily reported cases to 103, up from the record daily average of 93.57 registered Monday, Dec. 20. Three COVID-19 deaths have occurred over the last seven days in Evanston.

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 also updated its COVID-19 dashboard Tuesday afternoon, reporting 123 new positive test results among students and 11 new staff cases since Friday, Dec. 17. The 123 student cases more than doubled the previous record of 58 positives reported last week between Dec. 14 and Dec. 17.

The worst outbreaks at District 65 schools are at Haven Middle School, with 21 new positives since Friday, Orrington Elementary School, also with 21 new cases, and Nichols Middle School, with 19 new positives.

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton sent an email to families Tuesday evening about the ongoing rise in cases, saying that a district-wide shutdown or pivot to remote learning is not yet necessary. Currently, the district is seeing “extremely low spread in buildings with the vast majority of cases stemming from outside exposure,” according to Horton. For the remaining two school days prior to winter break on Dec. 22 and 23, the district will excuse any student absences to offer more flexibility to families, he added.

“We have an expanded team working alongside the health department to assess each school’s situation. Health and safety will continue to drive our decision making,” Horton wrote. “In some cases, the decision has already been made to take an adaptive pause within a classroom, grade level, or school based on the data gathered and under the advice of the health department.”

Evanston Township High School also registered a record high number of student positives last week, with the school reporting 129 new cases among students for the week ending Dec. 17. ETHS has made a temporary shift to remote learning from Dec. 17 through Dec. 23.

In a Tuesday message to parents and families, ETHS announced new testing plans for the spring semester beginning Monday, Jan. 10. All students will be tested for COVID-19 through the University of Illinois’ SHIELD saliva testing program on either Tuesday, Jan. 11 or Wednesday, Jan. 12 “to help identify trends in COVID-19 prevalence and transmission after the break,” according to the message from Superintendent Eric Witherspoon.

All ETHS students, regardless of vaccination status, will also start weekly testing beginning Tuesday, Jan. 18 to help mitigate the spread of the virus as case counts continue to rise amid the emergence of the omicron variant. Witherspoon emphasized that students should stay home if they develop any potential symptoms of COVID-19 or other illnesses.

On Monday, amid its own outbreak of new cases, Northwestern University announced a move to online learning for the first two weeks of winter classes in January and requirement for all students to receive a vaccine booster shot by Jan. 30.

Federal guidance for fighting omicron

On Dec. 20 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released models estimating that 73% of all new COVID-19 cases in the United States last week were the new omicron variant, which was first discovered in South Africa in November.

Early research suggests that omicron is two to three times as contagious as the delta variant, and preliminary data has demonstrated that two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are not as effective in preventing infection from omicron. Public health officials have said two doses and a booster shot still strongly protect against illness, and two doses still seem to do a good job of preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Tuesday afternoon President Joe Biden spoke from the White House on new efforts planned by the federal government to slow the spread of the omicron variant throughout the country. As pharmacies and grocery stores across the country have run out of home rapid tests over the last week, Biden announced plans to distribute 500 million take-home tests to Americans in January. Americans will be able to request those tests using a federal website that the administration is setting up soon, Biden said Tuesday.

Other federal plans for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 this winter include expanded vaccination sites across the country and increased production of personal protective equipment. Biden also said the White House is sending hundreds of military doctors, nurses and paramedics to virus hotspots.

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...