Evanston community centers, businesses adapt protocols following mask mandate lift


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

After the city lifted its vaccination and indoor masking mandate Feb. 28, some businesses navigated their own safety measures.

Aviva Bechky, Assistant City Editor

When Evanston lifted its vaccination and indoor mask requirements Feb. 28, early childhood center Little Green Tree House decided to wait to see COVID-19 numbers before removing its own mask mandate.

“We just wanted to make sure that there wasn’t immediate backlash of a spike in COVID positive cases,” Betsy Taylor, the school’s enrollment administrator, said. “We were just doing our due diligence for our parents to make sure that we … were keeping (it) as safe as possible for their children.”

Three weeks later on March 21, she said the center lifted its mask mandate for students and employees.

The city’s Health & Human Services Department stopped requiring masks to be worn in indoor public spaces Feb. 28. It lifted the proof of vaccination requirement for business patrons the same day. 

At city-run community centers, mask and vaccine mandates were lifted promptly Feb. 28 in accordance with city policy. However, local businesses have adapted to the changed protocols in a variety of ways, putting their own spin on masking and vaccination policy as they contend with questions of public health and customer comfort.

“Today’s announcement isn’t a declaration of victory over COVID-19,” Mayor Daniel Biss wrote in a Feb. 23 announcement. “We have to assess our policies based on the expectation that they will be kept in place for a long time.” 

Audrey Thompson, the city’s interim Parks & Recreation director, said the community reaction to lifting the mandate was largely one of relief, especially from employees who no longer had to ask patrons to put on a mask.

“We are operating normally now,” Thompson said. “The only difference is if a person wants to wear a mask, they can wear a mask. I don’t think that will ever change.”

Jeron Dorsey, the recreation manager at the Robert Crown Community Center, said he was surprised by the number of people who still wore masks in the facility. He estimates about half of patrons have continued to do so.

The center also offers preschool programs, where he said most kids are wearing masks on the recommendation of facility staff.

“We were surprised by the amount of people who were still masked up in the facility, which was to me a great thing,” he said. “But we also respected that it was an optional thing.”

While private businesses are no longer required to mandate vaccination and masking by the City of Evanston, some chose to continue enforcing their own mandates, at least temporarily.

The Evanston Art Center, which serves children as well as adults, lifted their mask mandate March 28. Paula Danoff, the president and CEO, said the business still requires students to show proof of vaccination before removing masks.

“We have a lot of children and people in the Art Center, it’s a public space, and people are here for several hours at a time, so we just thought it would be the safest thing,” Danoff said.

This past week, she said she hasn’t seen much unmasking. However, some students have begun bringing coffees or other drinks to class — a change from when students weren’t allowed to remove masks to drink in the classroom.

Young children mostly wear their masks well, Danoff said. She said this is likely because, unlike older kids, they don’t have a memory of when they didn’t have to mask. Taylor agreed, saying the 3- and 4-year-olds she works with at Little Green Tree House kept their masks on without problems.

“They’re just like, this is what we do,” Taylor said. “And they actually like to use them as accessories. They talk about their masks, like they do with their T-shirts.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

Related Stories:

Two years later: Northwestern’s COVID-19 story, as told by testing data

City to lift mask and vaccine mandate Monday in accordance with state timeline

City COVID-19 positive case numbers reach below 100, positivity rate again below 1%