The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is “like nothing we have ever seen before.” Is that a simple understatement, or a frail attempt to grab hold of and try to make sense of the unprecedented times in which we live?
As Chicago and the State of Illinois continue to grapple with the novel coronavirus, we are not alone; the rest of our country and the entire world find themselves trying to figure out how to do so as well.
Every waking moment, the news, the worry, the loneliness, the hardship, and the divisiveness is the same. Every day we wake up living the life of the Bill Murray character in the movie Groundhog Day. Here at this publication, we have framed our editorials lately by saying, “As Gazette Chicago went to press…” as if by the time our newspaper reaches you, a ray of hope—a solution to our daily struggles to preserve lives and livelihoods—may have arrived with the climb of the dawning day. Alas, there is no solution so far under our sun at press-time.
Whether we are among government officials and public servants working hard at every level, medical and public healthcare professionals, owners of businesses large and small, leaders of faith, or everyday Janes and Joes, we come together to seek, pray, and hope for the same goals: A vaccine that prevents the spread of the virus and effective treatments for current victims. Mitigating the number of deaths. Success in the ongoing struggle to protect front-line heroes, heroines, and everyday citizens. An end to the divisive debate over what is more important—flattening the curve or opening up economies.
Let’s turn our attention for a moment to some of the positives that have come out of a time in our lives when facing the unknown has never been more scary or deadly. As we stare at the now infamous image of that bright red cellular “coronavirus crown” (designed by a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago), much like the Sword of Damocles swaying over our heads, we see some brightness and man’s humanity to man shining through.
You don’t have to look much further than the pages of this issue of
Gazette Chicago to see rays of hope. As we put this publication together, our editors marveled, and even shed some tears of gratitude, at the stories and images in this issue. Some of the things we are grateful for in the here and now in this community:
• Community activists and elected officials urging Governor JB Pritzker to “lift the ban” on rent control so many of our fellow citizens who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus can remain in their apartments; their actions are covered in a front-page article. It’s difficult to “shelter in place” when you don’t have a roof over your head. Just ask the more than 87,000 homeless in Chicago. This is a hotly contested issue, yet we tip our hats to the Lift the Ban Coalition for making sure this remains at the front of people’s minds, especially during this crisis.
• Also on page one, read how Communities United and Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) and courageous Chicago Public School high school students are advocating for more mental health services for young people stressed by the effect of the coronavirus on themselves, their friends, and their families.
• Beginning on page 3, see how local educators across all levels (elementary school, high school, and college) are embracing technology and ingenuity to help students learn remotely. This is a heavy lift and we express gratitude to teachers, administrators, and students coming together as one, even when the challenges of doing so are many. See, too, the resources available to students and parents that Gazette Chicago lists on page 4.
• “A Community in Action” is a collage of photos on page 8 (with descriptive captions on page 12). They say a picture tells a thousand words. You are all too familiar by now of the images of the heroes and heroines with their masks. This page is just a snippet of front-line heroes at our community hospitals and medical centers. Every day, every hour they stand at the battleground of this pandemic to save lives, risking their own in the process.
We know this collage doesn’t represent every front-line hero: the paramedics; the police officers and firefighters; U.S. postal, grocery store, City, Chicago Transit Authority, and utility workers; and so many others going to work each day on our behalf. The list is endless and speaks to what is great about who we are—that every day people have the courage and compassion to rise out of bed to serve others. This is the core of what is great and good in us. Don’t ever forget this—especially at a time when we see and struggle under the weight and vitriol of failed, dispassionate, and arrogant leadership at the highest levels in this country.
Something to think about when looking at the images of our “masked heroes and heroines”—put yourself in their shoes and consider what they face every day in our hospitals, VA facilities, nursing homes, and prisons (all “coronavirus hotbeds”) to save lives and offer technology so loved ones can bid farewell to those dying alone and afraid, all the while struggling with the stress and strain of seeing their own comrades fall under the burden. This is why we need to continue to shelter in place and use sound, common sense by listening to the science, so that our medical and support staffs, who are already stretched to the max and in some cases getting sick and dying, don’t have to face a continuous onslaught of new coronavirus patients.
• The signs in our windows and on our front lawns encouraging others to “pray” are poignant and tell their own story of our fragility and need to come together. Gazette Chicago invites you to join Our Community Prayer. See information on page 4.
• The University of Illinois at Chicago embraced ingenuity to participate in the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. See that story on page 10, along with how the Glessner House in the South Loop offers a unique way to pass the days at home.
• Pages 12 and 13 tell the story of the Chicago Bilingual Nurse Consortium, and how this small non-profit has literally put hundreds of nurses to work in Illinois by offering a network of services for nurses trained in foreign countries to bring their skills and compassion to our shores. Read about heroines such as Maricela Pineda, an RN from Humboldt Park by way of Veracruz, Mexico. Listen to her story and those of nursing student Marlene Santos (who studied in Puerto Rico) and Saulena Antanaviciene, a nurse from Lithuania. If these women of courage and valor don’t warm your heart and show you how fair and just immigration policies benefit us all, well then you are just like the Grinch, “whose heart was just two sizes too small.”
• On page 19, Gazette Chicago offers you an updated list of resources to help cope with and secure resources during the coronavirus pandemic.
• The efforts of the Little Italy Community Neighbors Association (LICNA), which used some of its proceeds recently to support Taylor Street businesses (such as Al’s Italian Beef, Busy Burger, and Demitasse Café) to provide lunch to front-line workers at Rush University Medical Center. Many other entities and business owners are stepping up to the plate to provide delicious meals for our heroes and heroines. We salute all of you.
There are many other heroes as well—many of them hundreds of miles away, but many right here in our communities.
We once again extend thanks to Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot for showing true leadership and making difficult, but sound, decisions based on science and the health and welfare of all Illinois residents. While out-of-step downstate Republican legislators grandstand, play partisan politics at the direction of others, and file lawsuits to curtail the stay at home order that is working in Illinois, Pritzker and Lightfoot face daily criticism—yet remain committed to the common good. This is sensible leadership that is saving lives and protecting our most valuable resources: our families and front-line, essential workers. We also tip our hat to Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California for showing true leadership during this pandemic as well.
From hundreds of miles away, we salute Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson and public health officials in Waterloo, Iowa. Sheriff Thompson is sticking his job and neck on the line to save others. He has been a strong voice of reason to shut down the Tyson Foods packing plant in his jurisdiction, as scientists say it is the source of more than 90% of the coronavirus cases plaguing this small community. Yet, Republican Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Tyson officials continue to do a “Texas two-step” to keep the plant open by pressing for more testing (which is impossible because one cannot get enough of the testing supplies needed from the Federal government, no matter how much they lie about the “millions of tests” being conducted nationwide) and promising safer work conditions. At press time, there were more than 1,400 cases in Black Hawk County and the hospitals there were at capacity with medical staff pleading, with tears in their eyes, for Iowans to heed the stay-at-home orders as they were being lifted.
This is where are now at in this country. The majority of Americans have come full circle with the coronavirus. They have gone from being skeptical about sheltering in place to being outright fearful for their lives and want sound judgment to prevail over the urge to open up economies. In a span of less than two months, we have seen a larger total of lives perish from this disease than all the brave men and women that sacrificed their lives for us during the 14-year Vietnam War. Some 2,000 people a day are dying. Yet, the pleas of scientists, health care workers, and other sensible people go unheard among some.
Instead we get this:
• Texts from a desperate and pandering president to his base of supporters to “Liberate Michigan! Liberate Virginia!” Which resulted in waves of protest and the worst of the worst, armed militia standing on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol, with AR-15s at their ready. The numbers were small—only about 200 short-sighted and angry citizens in a state of ten million. Yet, the images were chilling and the action of the protestors was downright despicable (some brandished Confederate flags, and most of them didn’t wear masks or bother to practice social distancing—“Why bother, when my AR-15 will keep me safe?”).
• Is this what we have come to? A president calling this armed group “good people” who just want to be heard? Reminds us of when neo-Nazis protested in Charlottesville, VA. We call their actions illegal and unacceptable intimidation of elected officials. The encouraging news in all of this is that Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has the confidence of Michiganders, who by a 63% to 36% margin support her managing of the pandemic over that of the president.
• Maryland Governor Lawrence Hogan, a Republican, had to call out his National Guard to protect the coronavirus tests being conducted in his state out of fear that the Federal government would confiscate them to hold down the grim statistics if Maryland found out how many people truly were infected. Some other Republican governors are working to hide the grim statistics concerning the amount of dead resulting from the coronavirus in their states.
• More than $500 million in funding being doled out more than 100 publicly traded companies while small business owners fight and claw for the crumbs that are left. With trillions of dollars being thrown at this pandemic by the Federal government, Trump Administration officials look to reward their corporate campaign contributors. Some companies have been shamed into returning the monies; others arrogantly have declined to do so.
• Jeff Bezos and Amazon have made more than $75.5 billion in 2020’s first quarter while some of the firm’s workers go out on strike in the midst of this recession, pleading for safer workplace conditions. Meanwhile, Elon Musk of Tesla shrieks to open up state economies. Why? So the top 1% can buy his high priced electric autos? The virus continues to kill more people of color and ravages under-served communities. Not exactly those in the market to buy a Tesla. The optics here make one pause.
• The president on national television on April 23 seriously suggested (not sarcastically suggested, as his spin doctors Kellyanne Conway and Rudy Giuliani would have had you believe the following day on right-wing media) that we should consider injecting household disinfectants and inserting ultra-violet light into our bodies to ward off the virus. By that weekend, calls to state poison control centers across the country skyrocketed.
• President Trump signed executive orders preventing governors from shutting down meat packing plants in their states even though the data shows they are hotbeds for the virus to spread. In the meantime, he won’t allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to dole out $2,700 to each family needing assistance to bury their dead. We did this after Hurricane Katrina when President George W. Bush was in office, and we did this after the hurricanes ravaged Puerto Rico and the East Coast in 2017. But not now. This president extends no compassion to the dead and their grieving, hardship-suffering families. His lack of empathy in times of crisis is cringe-worthy.
• All the while, his son-in-law Jared Kushner boasts that the administration is handling this pandemic with “great success.” This from an Administration that stood idly by since last November when our intelligence agencies first warned of a coronavirus pandemic hurtling our way; has grossly mismanaged the creation and distribution of testing kits and the shipment of ventilators and PPEs (Kushner recently said “those are ours”); and is now playing partisan politics to pressure governors to open up their state economies before the Centers for Disease Control and other public health officials and epidemiologists nationally and locally say it is safe to do so.
Is this common sense, compassionate, and effective leadership, as Trump Administration apologists like to say? No, friends, it is in no uncertain terms denial, ignorance, and insanity.
Yet, let us not wallow in anger over this ineptitude. Stay laser-focused on caring for yourselves, your loved ones, and your neighbors. Be uplifted by what you read in these pages about ingenuity, heroism, and a collective call to serve others. Keep praying—every day.
Stay strong, safe, and secure. We will see you soon in brighter days ahead when we can chat at the grocery store, share a meal and some laughter at our local restaurants, and gather in our places of worship.
Until then, stay together and stay in touch with your support networks. If you are able, contribute to local and national charities to help lift up others in need. Remember, you are not alone. We remain all in this together. God bless you.