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Evanston schools are reporting a record number of COVID-19 cases

Students will leave King Arts School in Autumn 2021. (Photo by Bessie Mbadugha)

For the week ended Friday, January 14, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Evanston Township High School District 202 combined reported 593 new positive cases of COVID-19 among students. This number represents approximately 5.5% of the 10,802 total students enrolled in both districts.

ETHS alone registered 311 new positive students during the week, while District 65 had 288 students test positive during the same period. 105 employees also tested positive between the two districts.

While transmission of the virus is high throughout the community, the worst outbreaks in District 65 are currently concentrated in Chute and Haven middle schools and Oakton, Walker, Washington and Willard elementary schools. District 65 began second semester classes on Monday, January 10 with a distance learning day, but all buildings reopened for face-to-face classes on January 11. The district announced an “adaptive pause” due to COVID-19 case rates for personal learning.

With increased virus transmission in Evanston, ETHS also began mandatory weekly testing for all students on January 11, regardless of vaccination status. District 65 has tested all students once a week since the beginning of the academic year in September 2021. Parents of students in each district were required to fill out an opt-out form in order to have one of their children exempt from the weekly testing protocol.

In early January, ETHS and District 65 also passed new guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention that shortened mandatory quarantines for students who test positive or are not fully vaccinated and have been exposed to someone with a confirmed positive case of COVID-19. With these new guidelines, students who contract the virus can return to the classroom after five days of isolation instead of 10, provided they have no symptoms and no fever after five days.

Despite the record number of new cases among students, both districts have committed to continuing in-person classes as planned, in accordance with safety recommendations from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Evanston Health and Human Services Department.

“The coming weeks will inevitably be tough as omicron continues to grow and healthcare consulting evolves rapidly. We remain committed to maximizing safety in our schools and continuing to offer face-to-face instruction as mandated by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE),” wrote Dr. District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton in a January 7 message to students and families. “With that in mind, we must be prepared to adapt and implement updated guidance and possibly take adaptive breaks when health conditions warrant.”

Meanwhile, Evanston as a whole has consistently reported record highs in daily new COVID-19 cases for the past few weeks. The city saw a record 273 new cases on Thursday, January 13, and another 134 cases on Friday, January 14. The seven-day moving average of daily new positives now stands at 121.

Nonetheless, many parents and community members have a strong belief that the closure of in-person school buildings amid the Omicron wave will ultimately do more harm than good, especially as a large percentage of students and teachers are vaccinated and/or boosted against COVID-19.

“Everyone is different. It’s going to affect everyone in different ways, and I think we need to have a little bit of faith in science,” Angelique Ketzback, an Evanston resident and ETHS mother, told the roundtable. “We need to have a little Have faith in vaccines and I think that age group (K-12 school) I don’t think is at high risk.”

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