A student leaves ETHS after the final bell wearing a mask on the first day after Evanston’s mask mandate was lifted. (Photo by Debbie-Marie Brown)

The City of Evanston lifted its vaccine and mask mandates on Monday, the same day Evanston Township High School District 202 lifted its mask mandate and Northwestern University shifted to a mask-optional model in most administrative and non-classroom communal spaces. 

Despite the more relaxed guidelines, however, many Evanston shoppers and diners continued to wear masks, as did many of the students exiting the high school at the day’s end. 

The decision to lift the mandate in Evanston followed Gov. J.B. Pritzker announcement on Feb. 9 of an end to the state’s mask mandate on Feb. 28. 

Evanston did not announce it would follow the state’s lead until Feb. 23. In an email to residents, Mayor Daniel Biss explained the city made this decision because Evanston’s COVID-19 metrics – including hospitalizations, positivity rate and daily cases – have improved dramatically in recent weeks. 

ETHS students reflect on day one without mandate 

According to several students heading out of the building on Monday afternoon, the first day after the end of the mask mandate was much like any other.

Layarria, a junior, said most of the students she saw kept their masks on. She said the few who didn’t were those who were the same ones who were “argumentative” and didn’t want to wear them initially. But she anticipates COVID cases to rise again. 

Blythe, another junior, says the day went well. She saw a few students unmasked, but told the RoundTable that she knows a lot of people are keeping their masks on for immunocompromised students.  

“I know there are some immunocompromised people in my AP History class,” she said. “So I know a lot of people try to keep them on.”

Ysrayah, a freshman, was really put off by the idea of the mandate being lifted.

“I don’t know. I think it’s kind of dangerous,” she said. “I don’t think that they should be letting us take our mask off like that because [there are] way too many people in the building and it’s really easy to catch [COVID].”

Her friend Anaiya, another freshman, agreed, but also said that when they walked through empty hallways, they remove their masks momentarily.

ETHS freshmen Anaiya (left) and Ysrayah are both wary about the mask mandate being lifted. (Photo by Debbie-Marie Brown)

On Northwestern’s campus, university senior Alexander Haws said almost everyone he saw on campus wore a mask. He said the libraries no longer require students to show a COVID-19 symptom tracker, but other than that, he didn’t notice any changes on campus.

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 will lift its mask mandate on March 7, giving families, teachers and staff members a little more time to adjust and plan. 

Customers continue masking, Evanston employees say

Cinnaholic owner Phillip Morales, standing beside baker Angela Milton, said he and his employees don’t feel comfortable yet going mask-less. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

Cinnaholic owner Phillip Morales said it’s nice to no longer have to enforce the mask mandate in his business. He said customers who refused to wear masks typically felt very strongly about the matter, making it difficult for the bakery’s employees to do their jobs. 

Morales added that he and his employees don’t feel comfortable yet removing their masks and will likely continue to wear them until they adjust. 

Only about one in five shoppers appeared without a mask at Blick Art Materials, said store associate Parker Miller. He said he isn’t sure yet how the store will proceed with mask guidelines and is waiting for more directions. 

Artem Pop Up Gallery manager Riya Kamat said employees are continuing to wear masks to make other shoppers feel more comfortable. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

At Artem Pop Up Gallery, manager Riya Kamat said by around 4 p.m, she only saw one person enter the store without a mask. She predicts that some residents may not know the mandate has ended.

Without the mandate, it will be easier for employees to “take a breather” and remove masks temporarily without having to go to the back, Kamat said. Still, employees will likely continue wearing masks most of the time, she added.

“If someone comes in wearing a mask, we want them to feel comfortable, too, so we just wear our masks,” Kamat said. 

Coffee Lab employee Conor Metz stands beside a “No mask, no service” sign that was hung prior to the mask mandate being lifted. (Photo by Sam Stroozas)

The vast majority of customers at Coffee Lab kept their masks on, said employee Conor Metz. The coffee shop is no longer checking vaccine cards, something he said speeds up the process of ordering and dining in. 

“It was a relatively small inconvenience before, so it’s not a huge change,” Metz added. 

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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...

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