Evanston reopens amid COVID-19 uncertainty


Madison McGuire

Evanstonians return to Lighthouse Beach after its reopening.

Sari Oppenheimer and Sofia Williams

After months that have felt like years, Evanston is beginning the slow journey back to normalcy. On Friday, June 26, Illinois moved into phase four—Revitalization—of the five-phase Illinois reopening plan.
Movement into phase four is due to a decline in rate of infection for COVID-19 cases across Illinois. The Illinois COVID-19 response page states that phase four allows for schools, childcare programs and businesses to open with new safety measures and guidelines, as well as allowing groups of no more than 50 people to gather while enforcing social distancing from others and wearing a face mask.
Illinois 9th District Senator Laura Fine commented that progress Evanston has made is due to the cooperation of its citizens.
“A couple of months ago, our hospitals and our healthcare facilities were being absolutely overwhelmed; there was no space for anybody, because we had so many COVID-19 cases,” Fine said in an interview with The Evanstonian. “Now, when you talk to the hospitals, they’ve really got a grasp on things and that’s because the people in Evanston have been paying attention, they’ve been listening, and they’ve been doing what’s right.”
Evanston officials in charge of handling the virus have been working hard at finding safe ways to reopen, having weekly or even biweekly discussions over the phone.
“I think [Evanston] is doing a really good job, because they have been focusing on everything from making sure that people have enough to eat, because there’s a lot of food insecurity going on right now… to making sure that people can get tested and that people are healthy… and making sure that everybody is getting the information that they need when it comes to how to apply for unemployment insurance if you’ve lost your job,” Fine commented.
Within the Evanston community, stores and restaurants are slowly starting to reopen to varying degrees. While some restaurants have created spaces for outdoor dining, not every store in Evanston is physically opening their doors to customers, instead utilizing online orders with shipping and curbside pick-up.
“Occasionally, we’ll have outdoor sales and set up tables with items,” Laura Brown, business development and marketing manager for Downtown Evanston, said. “Now, during the summer and throughout the summer, I think people are more comfortable shopping outside, and they can.”
While there have been protests against safety measures in other parts of the country, Evanston residents are complying with city and state regulations.
“In our area, absolutely people have been taking this virus very seriously, and that’s a good thing,” said Fine. “You can see how well we’ve been doing by the numbers in this area, and our numbers have gone down.”
While many are following the new regulations, some students have observed a disregard for these guidelines, especially among their peers.
“There are a lot of students who are extremely cautious of not only their own health but [the health of] others too; however, I have seen some students and residents hanging out without masks. I think it just comes back to people wanting back their old styles of living,” junior Felipe Arreguin said.
Regarding people ignoring COVID-19 guidelines, senior Emily Ho said, “it’s scary because I feel like people won’t take things seriously until someone they’re close to or themselves gets severely sick.”
As Evanston and Illinois as a whole move to reopen, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) warns that remaining in phase four is conditional on seeing a decrease in the case positivity rate and the availability of healthcare personnel and hospitals to care for a spike in COVID-19 patients. IDPH also explains that moving from phase four to phase five will happen only when there is a vaccine and widespread availability of treatment for COVID-19 cases.
In an effort to provide information and care to Evanston residents, the City has been working to provide COVID-19 testing in an accessible manner.
“We’re offering [testing] every two weeks or so through a partnership with AMITA St. Francis Hospital…. Those have been really popular, a lot of people have shown up,” Mayor Steve Hagerty said in an interview with The Evanstonian.
City of Evanston officials continue to remain committed to keeping residents healthy and providing resources to the community. While the virus seems to be relatively under control in Evanston, citizens are warned to remain cautious and continue to stick to the guidelines.
“We don’t know where we are in the continuum,” said Hagerty, “other than we need to remain vigilant because a second wave can come.”