As states reopen, Evanston’s post-coronavirus path remains unclear

Andrew Myers, Reporter

As states across the country begin to reopen shuttered businesses while maintaining social distancing and following health guidelines, the path for Evanston businesses remains unclear.

In Evanston, only businesses deemed essential are currently allowed to operate. These businesses — which include grocery stores and hotels, among others — must enforce social distancing, and employees and patrons are required to wear masks.

Though Illinois’ stay-at-home order is set to expire May 30, it’s difficult to predict how long Evanston will impose social distancing and mask requirements for businesses, or whether the city may take additional precautions when reopening begins.

Mayor Steve Hagerty told The Daily it is too soon to know what Gov. J.B. Pritzker will do come June and July. Hagerty said more data will be needed to guide elected officials on how best to reopen.

“I don’t want to speculate too much about what I think,” Hagerty said. “Even though I’m an elected official and I sit in on lots of conference calls and receive lots of briefings, I’m not sure that I have a better sense of what the new normal looks like than anyone else in Evanston.”

On May 1, Illinois will begin phased reopenings of state parks and golf courses. Businesses previously deemed nonessential, like greenhouses, gardens and nurseries, can also reopen.

Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager, said Evanston hasn’t issued any policies on how businesses will operate in the future.

However, Zalmezak said a business task force composed of himself, Hagerty and other city officials is working with the Evanston Department of Health and Human Services to draft policy proposals.

“We’re in the process of drafting a framework to help guide our public health department as they write policies for reentering, but their decisions are going to be driven by best practices and CDC guidelines,” Zalmezak said.

Zalmezak said he anticipates existing social distancing and face mask guidelines to continue after the stay-at-home order is lifted. He expects certain activities, such as large sporting events in the new Robert Crown Community Center, will be difficult to resume in full capacity until a vaccine is widely available.

When nonessential businesses are allowed to return to normal operations, Hagerty and Zalmezak both said more difficult questions will have to be addressed, like how many people can sit in a restaurant or work out safely in a gym.

On the state level, State Sen. Laura Fine (D-Glenview) said she and her colleagues in the Illinois Senate are busy meeting in different working groups to determine the best path to reopen the economy and operate post-coronavirus.

“We’re also going to look at what other states and countries have done and what has worked and what has not worked, and then take a look at those models and see where we’ll go with those,” said Fine, who sits on the pension and affordable healthcare committees.

Regardless of how Illinois begins to reopen, Hagerty said Evanston won’t look the same in the near future.

“It’s going to be a new normal,” he said. ”It’s not going to be the way it was.”

Sneha Dey contributed reporting.

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