As the COVID-19 novel coronavirus makes its way across the United States, I have watched with bated breath as it has entered so many different areas of my life, just as it has for millions of other Americans. I’m a college student originally from Chicago studying at Pomona College, just outside of Los Angeles.
This week, the speedy growth of coronavirus cases managed to keep me from attending a conference in Seattle this weekend. That’s a small price to pay compared to the grave losses countless others have endured, but it has also led me to ask: what is being done back home to prepare for this public health crisis?
Alarmism is never the solution in times like these, but neither is silence or underpreparedness masked by a calm front. As of today, there are over 800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and so far, 19 of which are linked to Illinois residents. So far.
I am returning home to my family in Garfield Ridge this coming Friday just as hundreds of thousands of college students plan to do for this year’s spring break. I can’t help but think that my plans may be outpaced by COVID-19’s spread in the Chicago area.
While Illinois officials have certainly been quick to act, and our state was the first in the nation to begin using regional facilities for testing, and recently declared a state of Disaster-there are only 2,200 testing kits in the entire state which are available for use by public health officials. Additionally, given Chicago’s status as a domestic and international hub for air travel, I find it deeply concerning that travelers from Italy and South Korea arriving at O’Hare aren’t even being screened for the virus as of last Thursday. In a metropolitan area as large and densely populated as Chicagoland, it’s incredible that so few precautions are being taken given the likelihood of a faster spread of COVID-19 in the coming days.
The conference group I had planned to travel with watched this week as the City of Seattle grappled with an initially slow and relatively confined emergence of cases quickly balloon into an outbreak that has cancelled classes, sent workers home, and overwhelmed already overtaxed local and state health authorities.
While some action is certainly being taken to abate the spread of germs in the city, such as regular cleanings of biometric scanners at city facilities for workers and the first school being closed due to an infected employee--this is far from the robust preparation required to capably address such a novel, transmissible virus. The CTA and METRA have taken some steps to ensure cleaner public transit, though these are also likely not nearly as aggressive as they should be at this stage of national events.
With the St. Patrick’s Day Parade scheduled to continue despite rising cases and other cities’ cautionary cancellations, Chicago health authorities are dropping the mitigation ball.
It is the duty of our public officials, elected and un-elected, to keep us safe and well-informed on all aspects of crisis response, and not simply to restate and recount how what has always been done is enough for a crisis we’ve never faced.
Now is not the time to panic, of course, but instead to raise more questions that encourage preparation and an adequate local response to this pandemic before it is too late.