Gym-goers at LA Fitness are required to wear a mask and show proof of vaccination. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

City officials are still deciding how to proceed with Evanston’s mask mandate, but some frustrated parents are demanding more concrete answers. 

Adam McCostlin, for one, wants to know what metrics the city must meet in order to lift its mandate and make masks optional, especially in schools. 

After receiving only vague answers from the city’s Health Director Ike Ogbo and Mayor Daniel Biss, he created an online petition Feb. 10 demanding transparency. Within three days, the petition had garnered more than 250 signatures. 

“At what point do we say, and declare, we’re no longer in an emergency?” McCostlin said in an interview. “No one has an answer for me.” 

The Evanston Department of Health and Human Services reinstated the city’s mask mandate last August, following a surge in cases of the COVID-19 delta variant. The mandate required masking in public spaces for individuals two and older. 

The city mandate does not specifically mention schools but says masks are required in any common or shared space in an apartment or condo building or “any non-residential building, including but not limited to retail stores, restaurants, bars/taverns, health and fitness clubs, museums, hotels, personal services, performance venues, movie theaters, commercial buildings, event venues, healthcare settings, funeral homes, congregate facilities, City facilities, on public transportation and in transportation hubs.”

Almost six months have passed since the mask mandate was reinstated. “That was a different phase of the pandemic,” said McCostlin. “It was a different variant.”

McCostlin said he and other parents are frustrated with the lack of clarity around the mask mandate. He believes that if Evanston is no longer in an emergency state, then the mask mandate should be lifted, and masking in schools should be optional.

The state plans to lift its mask mandate Feb. 28, with some exceptions, according to a recent announcement by Governor J.B. Pritzker. The exceptions include schools, day cares, hospitals, long-term care facilities and public transportation.

Health director: ‘A determination will be made’

Even after the expiration of the statewide order, local jurisdictions in Illinois may have their own masking requirements, and city Health Director Ogbo said Evanston officials are still reviewing COVID-19 metrics. “If we continue to experience declines in these leading COVID metrics, a determination will be made on how to proceed,” he added. 

Ogbo wrote that the city is pleased with Evanston’s recent COVID-19 trends and is encouraged by Pritzker’s plan to lift the state’s mask mandate. 

COVID-19 cases in Evanston have been steadily declining. The city saw a peak in cases the week of Jan. 13, when the seven-day average totaled 127.7 new cases per day. 

The seven-day average per day for the week ending Feb. 9 was 36.3 new cases, down from 44.1 the week before.

Evanston’s decision-making on mask mandates is guided by “COVID-19 metrics, guidelines and data,” and the city’s mitigation methods have saved lives, wrote Ogbo. 

In a message to the RoundTable, Mayor Biss said the city is evaluating the situation. When asked if he and other elected officials are part of the decision-making process, Biss said that although the Health Department determines the city’s masking policies, “it would be customary for there to be various internal discussions” among elected officials.

Despite the state’s policy, District 65 will continue to require masking inside its facilities, district spokeswoman Melissa Messinger wrote in a brief message to the RoundTable.

District 65 students will no longer have to wear masks outdoors starting Monday, Feb. 14, according to an email sent Feb. 11 to parents by Superintendent Devon Horton. The district consulted medical advisers and the city’s health department before reaching this decision, according to the email.

Evanston Township High School is also committed to mask wearing, according to a recent statement by ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon.

A sign outside Bookends and Beginnings reminds customers to wear a mask. Employees at the bookstore feel it’s too early to lift the mandate. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

Local businesses weigh in 

Even if the city were to end its mask mandate, local businesses could establish their own masking requirements. Employees at Bookends and Beginnings, at 1712 Sherman Ave., feel that Feb. 28 is still too early to lift the mask mandate, said Floor Manager Lotte Dunnell. If Evanston lifts its mandate, the employees will continue wearing masks, she said.

The General Manager at LA Fitness, Kevin Sanchez, said he would appreciate if Evanston lifted its mandate so that residents who want to wear a mask can wear one, and those don’t are not required to.

Currently, gym-goers are required to show proof of vaccination and wear a mask. These requirements are hurting the business, Sanchez said. “We lost a lot of members,” he said.

The owner of Clarke’s Off Campus, 804 Davis St., says revenue will likely go up if the mask mandate ends. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

The owner of Clarke’s Off Campus, Yolanda Ewing, said she and her employees are excited about the prospect of Evanston lifting its mask mandate. Once the mandate is lifted, the restaurant’s revenue will likely increase, she said.

Carlos Garcia works as a waiter at Clarke’s Off Campus, and said that some customers get mad when they’re asked to put on a mask or show proof of vaccination, so the current mandate puts an additional strain on employees.

Owner Ewing added that her employees want to continue wearing masks – and will be required to for safety reasons – regardless of whether the city mandate is lifted or not. 

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

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...

6 replies on “Evanston’s continuing mask mandate frustrates some, pleases others”

  1. Kids’ smiles remain hostage because, as a group, kids are easy to push around, they don’t directly affect the economy, they don’t vote, and someone has to suffer for our sins (hospitals aren’t named “St. Mary’s” because they’re Buddhist). Adults have, for months, been selfishly running around to bars and restaurants, only masking during the walk to the bathroom. You call this “science”? Pure religion!

  2. Off-ramping mask mandates should be a top priority of Evanston’s leaders right now. As a community, we have done so much right over the course of the pandemic, and the right decision now is to move toward mask optional policies, particularly in our schools. Our City, D65, and D202 leaders put much energy and resources toward the social-emotional health of our school-aged children. The science tells us that we are now at the point where the detriments of mandatory masking for children and teachers far outweigh the benefits. Evanston should continue to lead by following the science, and expeditiously lay out the plan for moving to mask optional schools and businesses.

  3. Thank you for doing this petition. I am anxious for my young children to no longer need to be masked at school. We have gotten vaccinated and boosted and the masks interfere with their speech, language, socialization, and learning. Young children have never been masked in other countries and states and are not at high risk from Covid. Evanston is in a good place right now with 96% vaccination for 5+ and I hope the leaders recognize that now is the time to put kids first.

  4. What was the point of getting everyone vaccinated if we have to mask indefinitely? We should proud of our exceptional vax rate in Evanston and give people the choice to mask or not.

  5. Mr McCostlin makes a simple ask of our city leaders and they refuse to reply with concrete guidelines regarding an exit strategy to masking.
    There’s no reason to avoid the establishment of guidelines that move towards mask removal.
    I’m dissatisfied and disappointed in our community leaders for their lack of action regarding this topic.

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