Host of COVID-related problems continue to affect West Siders

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About 50 people attended a Zoom meeting Saturday, hosted by Rep. La Shawn Ford, to discuss the impact COVID-19 continues to have on the West Side.

Dr. Thomas Huggett, a family physician at the Lawndale Christian Health Center, made it clear the toll the coronavirus has taken on Black Chicagoans, noting that “1,489 African Americans died from COVID-19 disease out of the 3,700 deaths that have occurred.”

Virgil Crawford, a community organizer who is part of a program at Westside Health Authority that offers CPS students facilities for e-learning, said he’s worried this year will end up being a total loss for students.

“I don’t know if we can actually see any progress in their learning at the end of the school session,” he said.

CPS has provided internet and computers to about 100,000 students under its $50 million Chicago Connected project, according to their website.

The bigger issue is “the actual hardware, the computers themselves,” Crawford said. “We are running into a problem where a lot of students have computers that are not functioning, not working.”

Crawford said it’s going to take some serious evaluation to get a program in place to benefit children already starting behind and now must deal with poorly functioning technology as an intermediary between them and their teacher.

Students with special needs are at a particular disadvantage.

Debra Vines, CEO of The Answer Inc., an autism awareness and support agency, said the children they work with “don’t have the neural capacity to sit still for long periods of time” and a lot of “children are missing the different therapies that they typically get with being in school.

“I’m being very graphic and transparent right now,” she said, “but a lot of them throw feces, bump their head, self-mutilate.”

Vines said parents used to be able to send their children to school to get the services they need but are now dealing with them at home, often with other children in the household.

The waiting lists for agencies that offer free services are so long that families are “going through crisis right now.”

She called on Rep. Ford to work with other state lawmakers in Springfield to get more money into boots-on-the-ground community groups like hers.

The stress reaches such a level that “a lot of our parents are actually going back to substance abuse,” Vines said.

Dr. Huggett said the West Side is affected by “an epidemic within a pandemic,” with opioid overdose deaths up 55% from 2019. He said pandemic-related factors such as social isolation, closed pharmacies and difficulty accessing medical care have been some of the drivers behind the uptick.

He encouraged everyone who works or lives on the West Side to keep on hand Narcan or Naloxone, drugs which can reverse an overdose.

He said resources are available through the West Side Heroin and Opioid Task Force, which trains residents to administer Narcan, and the Lawndale Christian Health Center, which hosts recovery groups on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Dr. Huggett said people getting the COVID-19 vaccine will help “spin this pandemic down and make treatment more possible for folks living with opioid use disorder.”

Sista Yaa Simpson, a community epidemiologist and founder of the Association of Clinical Trial Services, said while the FDA gave emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine last week, it’s important to remember most people won’t receive a vaccine for many months.

The Chicago Department of Public Health began laying out its plans for vaccine distribution last week.

Under the city’s plan, the vaccines will be distributed to groups in a descending order of risk, starting with health care workers treating COVID-19 patients.

Simpson said despite the record timeline for the vaccine’s development and approval, Pfizer and Moderna, the two front runners in developing the shots, “have not skipped any of the steps that are required by the FDA to get an emergency use application. They took every step.”

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