ETHS drops mask mandate in moves towards normalcy

On Feb. 22, Superintendent Eric Witherspoon released an email announcing that ETHS would no longer enforce masks starting Feb. 28, though they would still be highly recommended. 

District 202 is part of the majority of Illinois school districts that have begun to lessen or remove their COVID-19 restrictions in response to new CDC guidance and state-level policy. Schools such as ETHS’ rival, New Trier Township High School, also chose to transition to optional mask-wearing because of these new regulations.

As announced on Feb. 25, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker made the decision to drop the school mask mandate, effective on Feb. 28.

I’m extremely pleased to say that because the CDC has recommended that masks are needed only in areas of high transmission, the state of Illinois will move forward to remove our school mask mandate, effective Monday, [Feb. 28]” Pritzker said in an official statement posted to Twitter. Masks will still remain required in high-risk locations including health care facilities and public transportation as of early March. 

As has been a trend since the start of the pandemic, ETHS has followed the COVID-19 regulations released by the state carefully. 

“What we’ve done at ETHS is we’ve really closely adhered to the governor’s orders,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon in regards to the changes in policy. “We’re supposed to monitor and follow the laws and the rules and the recommendations and respond appropriately.”

In the Feb. 22 email originally announcing the end of the school-wide mask mandate, ETHS cited the school’s high vaccinations rates—94 percent for students and 95 percent for staff—as well its low COVID-19 positivity rate, which fell at less than 0.5 percent for both students and staff, as reassurance that the school would remain safe. 

ETHS’s COVID Dashboard further reveals that in the week of Feb. 28, positive COVID-19 cases amongst students dropped from six in the week of Feb. 22 to two. However, the amount of schoolwide SHIELD testing results received also decreased, dropping just over 50 percent compared to the week before as a result of testing transitioning from weekly to biweekly.

A week after the mandate was lifted, public opinion still varied on whether the correct decision was made. The decision came after Gov. Pritzker’s mask mandate was overturned by the Ill. appellate court. 

“I don’t think it was the right idea. They’re telling us that we should wear a mask, but that they can’t make us,” freshman Claire Ross said. 

Regardless of whether a person chooses to continue to wear their mask or not, the lifting of the mandate was the start of a transitional timeline for COVID-19 in ETHS.