In the last week, new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Chicago, suburban Cook County and the state continued to show significant declines. New cases in Evanston have also dropped. If the trend continues, both the state and Evanston plan to end their mask mandates, with some exceptions. Unfortunately, three Evanstonians died due to COVID-19 in the last week.

State plans to end masking requirement in most indoor settings

On Feb. 9, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office announced that the state is planning to end its indoor masking requirements on Feb. 28. There are some exceptions: “Mask requirements will continue where federally mandated, such as on public transit and in high-risk settings including healthcare facilities and congregate care. Masking requirements will also continue to apply in all daycare settings.”

In addition, “municipalities and businesses in most industries may choose to continue to implement more strict public health mitigations as they deem appropriate, including requiring masks,” said the statement.

Thus, the City of Evanston would be permitted to continue its masking requirement for indoor places. However, in a written statement the city said, “We will continue to review COVID-19 metrics, and if we continue to experience declines in these leading COVID-19 metrics, a determination will be made on how to proceed with mask mandates at that time.”

The governor’s office also said, “The state intends to continue masking requirements in P-12 schools subject to pending litigation which impacts a number of schools. As the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] reaffirmed just today, masks remain a critical tool to keep schools safe and open.”

Last Friday a circuit court entered a temporary restraining order that prohibits the state from enforcing the governor’s executive orders that require masks for all students, teachers, staff and visitors, as well as require mandatory vaccinations or COVID-19 testing for school employees. Because the court refused to certify the action as a class action, it appears that the order may only bar the state from enforcing the mandates in school districts that were plaintiffs in the case. The order is on appeal.

While School Districts 65 and 202 are not plaintiffs in the lawsuit, they both said they would adhere to their mask requirements to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

In explaining why the state plans to continue the masking requirement in schools, the governor’s office said that much lower percentages of school-aged children have been vaccinated than the rest of the population, and “schools need more time for community infection rates to drop, for young children to become vaccine eligible, and for more parents to have their kids vaccinate.”

“Children’s social-emotional and academic growth is best supported in the in-person educational setting, so extra precaution should be taken to prevent disruption and avoid adaptive pauses and remote learning,” added Dr. Zachary Rubin, a pediatric immunologist based in DuPage County. “Maintaining masking and mitigation practices in the school environment buys us more time for infection rates to drop, for parents to get their 5-to-17-year-olds vaccinated, and for the 6 month to 4 years age group to become vaccine eligible.”

The Federal Drug Administration’s advisory committee is scheduled to meet on Feb. 15 to discuss authorizing the Pfizer vaccine for children 6 months through four years of age.

While the state may no longer require masks in most indoor locations beginning Feb. 28, “they are still recommended,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “Masks offer a layer of protection and for people who have an underlying health condition or who are around those who do, you may choose to continue wearing a mask. Similarly, if you find yourself in a crowded, indoor setting, a mask can still help protect you. We will continue to recommend masks.”

 Trends of new cases in Illinois and Evanston

Illinois:  On Feb. 10, the number of new cases in the state was 5,716, a considerable drop compared to 9,396 on Feb. 3.

The seven-day average of daily new cases in Illinois on Feb. 10 was 5,716, compared to 9,316 on Feb. 3, a 39% decline. This decline is on top of significant declines in the prior three weeks. An accompanying chart shows the trend since Oct. 28.

IDPH estimates that as of Feb. 5, 93% of the new cases are due to the omicron variant, and 7% to the delta variant.

Evanston: Evanston reported 19 new COVID-19 cases of Evanston residents on Feb. 9. (The state is reporting COVID-19 data with a one-day delay.)

There was a total of 184 new COVID-19 cases of Evanston residents in the week ending Feb. 9, compared to 309 new cases in the seven days ending Feb. 3. The seven-day average of daily new cases was 36.3 for the week ending Feb. 9, compared to 44.1 for the week ending Feb. 3.  An accompanying chart shows the trend.

Three Evanstonians died due to COVID-19 during the week ending Feb. 9. The total number of deaths due to COVID-19 is 141.

Cases at D65 and ETHS: School District 65’s COVID-19 dashboard reports that for the seven-days ending Feb. 8, a total of 48 students and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

ETHS reports on its dashboard that in the seven-day period ending Feb. 7, 13 students and three staff tested positive for COVID-19.

The data does not reflect whether the students and staff contracted the virus while at school.  

Impact of Northwestern University. The latest data reported on NU’s website is that between Feb. 4 and Feb. 10, there were 123 new COVID-19 cases of faculty, staff or students. If the cases are of an Evanston resident, they are included in Evanston’s data for the relevant period.

The risk level of community spread

The weekly number of new cases per 100,000 people in Illinois decreased from 519 in the seven days ending Feb. 3, to 316 in the seven days ending Feb. 10.  

As of Feb. 9, the weekly number of new cases per 100,000 people in Evanston is 284. For Cook County the number was 231.  

Under CDC guidelines, an area is regarded as a “high transmission” area if it has more than 100 new weekly cases per 100,000 people. (See footnote 2.)

Test Positivity Rates: The most recent seven-day test-positivity rates are: Illinois – 5.8%; Chicago – 3.3%; suburban Cook County – 6.0%; and Evanston – 1.84%.

The CDC and IDPH both say if an area has a test positivity rate between 5.0% and 7.9%, it has a “moderate” transmission rate. Over 8% indicates an area has a “substantial” transmission rate.  

Vaccinations

As of Feb. 10, 80.4% of Illinois residents five and older had at least one dose of a vaccine and 70.8% were fully vaccinated. (Source: CDC and IDPH.)

Data provided by IDPH indicates that only about 50.2% of the people in Illinois who are fully vaccinated have received the booster shot, which is regarded as important to boost the effectiveness of the vaccines, particularly with respect to the omicron variant.

As of Feb. 2, 96.7% of Evanston residents five and older had received at least one dose of a vaccine; 86.6% were fully vaccinated. (Source: City of Evanston.)

Hospitalizations

Hospitalizations of COVID patients are going down. In Illinois the number of hospitalizations of COVID patients declined from 7,380 on Jan. 12 to 2,380 on Feb. 9.  

In suburban Cook County the number of hospitalizations dropped from a seven-day average of 1,076 to 644 in the last 10 days. In Chicago the number went from 905 to 552.

In Chicago and suburban Cook County the percentages of intensive care unit beds that are available are 15% and 16%, respectively. IDPH says the desired minimum is 20%.  

Deaths

There was a total of 116 deaths due to COVID-19 in Illinois on Feb. 2. The seven-day average was 80, compared to 101 one week ago.

FOOTNOTES

1/ The state moved to Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Plan on June 11. As of July 1, the RoundTable has been covering COVID-19 metrics once a week on Thursdays.  Specifically, the RoundTable is presenting two charts showing: 1) the trends in the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in two recent seven-day periods for Evanston, Chicago, Suburban Cook County, and the State. The chart also shows the weekly numbers of new cases for each region as of June 10 as a baseline to gauge whether cases are going up since the move to Phase 5; and 2) the most recent test positivity rates for these areas.  

As discussed in footnote 3 below, the CDC recommends that these two measures be used to determine the level of risk of transmission.  If we see a surge in new cases or in the test positivity rates, we will consider covering additional metrics.

We will also report the most recent percentages of vaccinated people, 12 years and older, in Evanston and Illinois.

2/ In late July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and Evanston’s Health & Human Services Dept. each adopted recommendations that everyone, including fully vaccinated people, wear a mask in a public indoor setting in areas with “substantial” and “high transmission” of new COVID-19 cases. Areas of substantial transmission are considered to be those with between 50 and 99 cases per 100,000 people over a 7-day period. Areas of high transmission are considered to be those with more than 100 cases per 100,000 people over a 7-day period.

They also recommend universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. 

3/ On Feb. 12, the CDC issued a K-12 School Operational Strategy. As part of that strategy, the report says CDC recommends the use of two measures to determine the level of risk of transmission: 1) the total number of new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days; and 2) the percentage of COVID tests during the last seven days that were positive. The CDC provides a chart to assess whether the risk of transmission is low, moderate, substantial, or high. If the two indicators suggest different levels of risk, CDC says the higher level of risk should be used. The table below, reprinted from CDC’s report, provides CDC’s Indicators and Thresholds for Community Transmission of COVID-219.

CDC’s guidelines are available here: Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention | CDC

 Illinois Data

Cook county   CDC COVID Data Tracker

This story has updated to correct the seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases in Evanston for the week ending Feb. 9.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *