The Evanston City Council on June 13 voted to tighten its COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements for council members as well as for boards, committees and commissions.

Mayor Daniel Biss had proposed the amendments to council rules on COVID-19 vaccination and testing. The amendments were added to clarify any ambiguities, said Kelley Gandurski, Interim City Manager, in a memo to the council.

Members during a City Council meeting last year. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

Council rules adopted earlier this year require all members as well as those on commissions, committees and city boards to be fully vaccinated in order to attend in-person meetings.

Under the council’s previous rule, members not vaccinated against COVID-19 were required to submit to the city’s Director of Health and Human Services proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours of each in-person council meeting. Failure to do so could result in censure or expulsion by a two-thirds vote of the members present.

The amendment at Monday’s meeting reads about the same, but specifies the timing: proof of a negative test must be submitted within 24 hours prior to each in-person council meeting.

Council member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, submitted and argued for his own amendment proposing:

  • Any unvaccinated council or committee members may submit to the health director a test result that had been taken within one week prior to attending an in-person meeting; the test result could be submitted the day before the meeting.
  • The city cover the cost of all mandated tests.
  • The rule should also apply to vaccinated members who had been exposed to Covid within seven days of the meeting.
  • While this rule is in effect, all meetings must provide a virtual- or hybrid-attendance option.

Differences over CDC guidelines

Reid said his proposal is more in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, particularly the mandating of employers covering testing costs. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention poster on COVID-19.

Reid argued about several other issues in the CDC recommendations. And then said that Evanston officials were “going to have stop saying that we’re a city that follows the science and follows the data and follows the CDC – because the proposal that is put forward here is not.”

Ike Ogbo, the city’s Health and Human Services Director, said when the initial testing policy was put in place, it was based an Omicron surge “where we required individuals to test 24 hours prior to entering a business or facility.

“It still follows the CDC guidelines,” he said, “where it was advised for anyone who is attending an event [or] meeting to test prior to. What the 24-hour testing does is to capture current infections, and this is, as you know, to protect the elderly, those who have lower immunity.”

Ogbo said that Evanston is currently at the moderate transmission level.  But, he noted, “About a month ago, we were in ‘high.’ ” He also pushed back on Council Member Reid’s assertion that the city is headed into a season of substantially lower COVID-19. Ogbo said he could not confirm that. COVID-19 “could go up and down” this summer, Ogbo said. “Depending on the events, depending on Memorial Day, depending on July 4, we do see peaks in COVID transmission,” making it difficult to predict.

In a RoundTable survey conducted of council members last year, all but two members said they had received vaccinations. Council members Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, and Reid did not respond.

Nor did they respond to repeated inquiries – until now. On Tuesday, June 14, Council member Reid wrote in a text: “I am in compliance with the vaccination policy. I believe that health care is personal and disclosure rarely serves a public interest.” Council member Burns wrote in an email: “I remain in compliance of our vaccination policy. I voted in favor of the original policy and the updated version we approved last night.”

Council vote

Council member Burns seconded Reid’s amendment that a COVID-19 test result could be taken within one week of an in-person meeting. But council members voted 6-1 against the change, with Council member Reid the lone member voting in support.

Council members also voted 6-1 for the new language, specifying that any members not vaccinated against COVID-19 must submit proof, prior to an in-person meeting, of a negative test taken prior to the meeting and within a 24-hour window.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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