Chicago City Council Resolution: COVID-19 & Building Public Health

Photo/Daniel Schludi

PTLN 12.16.20

Chicago City Council Resolution:
COVID19 Testing, Vaccination, Building Public Health

Statement by Dr. Howard Ehrman, Former CDPH Assistant Commissioner, Assistant Professor University of Illinois Chicago College of Medicine.

See Resolution below the Statement.

Today, Wednesday, December 16, 2020, the 50 Alderman of the Chicago City Council can together take a historic step to reverse decades of public sector disinvestment in our city by passing the COVID19 Resolution before you.

Since early this year, President-Elect Joe Biden & Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris have called for the creation of a 100,000 person U.S. Public Health Jobs Corps, stating “Corps members should come from the communities they serve in order to ensure that they create trust and are as effective as possible.”

The resolution before you today is a major step in that direction. It calls for federal, state, and local funding to go to rebuilding the Chicago Department of Public Health: to hire full-time adults and youth from those community areas most affected by COVID19 infections and deaths. These full-time CDPH nurses and workers would get City of Chicago Benefits and be union members like other city employees. Most would come from our African American and Latino zip codes, who have been devastated by more than twice as many infections and deaths as white neighborhoods.

Since 1970 Chicago has lost more than 300,000 African Americans, more than any U.S. City.

In at least the last 5 years our city’s Latino’s population has begun to shrink.

In the last 30 years no city has torn down more public housing than Chicago, almost none of which has ever been replaced, resulting in thousands of our Sisters and Brothers living in Section 8 Housing in Rockford, Aurora, the Quad Cities, Peoria, Galesburg, Des Moines and other cities hundreds of miles from their families back in Chicago.

No city has closed more public schools than Chicago, devastating Black & Brown neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.

No city has come close to destroying its previously world-renowned public health department than Chicago since 1990: cutting its staff from 2,000 to 450 and its facilities from 57 to 15, closing 6 of its 12 mental health centers, privatizing all 7 of its once proud and bustling Neighborhood Health Centers, and privatizing its HIV/STD and other public health core functions.

This left Chicago totally unprepared for COVID19 and all future, more frequent outbreaks, epidemics, pandemics and the more and more frequent, violent and deadly climate change disasters we face: polar vortex, heat waves, flooding, fires, tornadoes, lakefront destruction and more

Finally no city cut its vital public transit more than Chicago did: in 1997 when the CTA cut 20% of its bus service primarily in Black & Brown neighborhoods and in 1998 when it cut 20% of train service, including eliminating 24/7 service on all train lines except the Red Line and O’Hare Blue Line.

All this was before COVID19 hit with a vengeance on January 21, 2020 when the 2nd known U.S. case of COVID19 was discovered in Chicago and on January 24th when the 1st known U.S. case of COVID19 human to human transmission occurred here.

Although we all agree that President Trump and the Federal Government made deadly mistake after mistake and completely underfunded life-saving programs and equipment needed by cities and states, the City of Chicago’s CDPH privatized the vast majority of the $hundreds of millions it did receive, rather than rebuild CDPH with public, union, full-time employees.

This has resulted in thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths of primarily Black & Brown residents that could have been avoided:

Today: No large city has less public COVID19 testing sites than Chicago: only 4 city sites and 1 state site for 2.7 Million of us!

No city has a larger COVID19 Racial Testing Gap than Chicago: 90,000 more whites have been tested than Blacks and 87,000 more whites have been tested than Latinos when more than twice as many African Americans are dying than whites and more than twice as many Latinos are getting infected than whites: this is a Crime Against Humanity!

Now the city and state are saying that most people will be getting COVID vaccinated at a clinic, hospital, or pharmacy rather than most being vaccinated by CDPH carrying out a Mass Vaccination Campaign at every school, park, and other public places as every other country in the world will do: including England, which began vaccinating the elderly last week in gyms, parks and libraries as well as hospital and clinics and like we have done in every other epidemic and pandemic in history!

While every clinic, hospital and pharmacy are essential vaccine sites, they do not have the space, capacity, staff or hours to come close to vaccinating Chicago’s population. All are overburdened with taking care of the own patients, even before COIVID and especially now.

To rely on them to do so would mean vaccinating 2.7 million people would take years and those who have no insurance, no car, have to work 2 or 3 jobs, are undocumented and/or incarcerated would be the last ones to get the shots, even though many are among those with the highest risk of both infection and death.

All of us over 50 years old got at least one vaccine shot for measles, polio or other preventable diseases at our schools, parks, churches or other sites by CDPH nurses.

In May, 1963, on a Saturday, CDPH set the U.S. record, which still stands, by vaccinating 301,000 of its residents in 18 hours. No one lived more than 2 blocks from a Vaccine Station.

Last month, hundreds of schools, park district fieldhouses, other public buildings and churches were opened either for 3 weeks of early voting and/or on election day. Overall the Chicago Board of Elections did a good job of protecting both the voters and election workers by letting in fresh air, maintaining social distancing, everyone was masked and more.

If Chicago could do it last month, CDPH can do it in these same facilities and more, including opening all Armories now, immediately for free COVID19 testing, free Flu shots and future COVID vaccines in a few months.

We will all win if you do the right thing by both passing and funding this resolution. 

If you do not then thousands more will get infected and die unnecessarily.

People’s Response COVID19 19 Chicago City Council Resolution: Testing, Vaccination, Building Public Health:

Formally Introduced by the Socialist Caucus on Monday, December 14th, 2020 to be discussed and voted on at the Chicago City Council Meeting on Wednesday, December 16th @ 10 am

Please call now to testify in favorLeave your name and phone number: 312-744-6800

Watch the meeting live:

“Whereas, 3,541 Chicagoans have died and 165,281 have been infected from COVID19 and many more deaths and infections will happen during this 2020-2021 winter

Whereas it is very important to have life-saving coved testing, vaccinations, contact tracing, isolation/quarantine and other survival resources for Chicago’s Black and Brown communities, who have 2.5 times more COVID19 infections and deaths than whites.

Whereas 30% of All Chicago Households do not have a car, with over 50% of Households in Black & Brown Community Areas, like Englewood, having no car, making it impossible for families to access the vast majority of city, state and private Chicago COVID19 testing sites, which are drive-up only or not walk-up friendly, including All CVS & Walgreens Drive-up Only testing sites

Whereas all or most of these drive-up COVID19 testing sites may well also become COVID19 vaccination drive-up sites

Whereas 85,000 more white people in Chicago have been tested for COVID19 than African Americans and Latinos;

Whereas many people, especially in Black and Brown communities, have the highest unemployment, homeless rates and/or do not have health insurance;

Whereas cold weather will require indoor, well ventilated, safe testing/vaccination sites; and

Whereas the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has been down-sized more than any other U.S. local public health department, from 2,000 employees in 1991 to less than 500 now, and programs for the health of the people have been outsourced to private corporations thus fragmenting the public health system, creating an ineffective, de-centralized public health response, and failing to provide full-time, unionized jobs with benefits, especially to our African American and Latino neighborhoods with the highest unemployment rates.

Be it resolved that free, permanent, walk up-friendly indoor sites for COVID19 testing, flu shots, and COVID19 vaccinations be set up safely in Chicago park district field houses, school gymnasiums, CDPH Facilities, Chicago Department of Family & Support Services Facilities, including but not limited to, all Senior Centers & Cooling/Warming Centers, All Chicago Armories, other large, accessible and well ventilated indoor public sites, prioritizing the Black & Brown zip codes hardest hit by COVID19; and

Be it resolved that action be taken by City Council and the mayor to expand the City Public Health Department, with employment geared to hiring adults and youth from Chicago’s Black and Brown neighborhoods for public health, union jobs with full-benefits, including, but not limited to: on-site COVID19 registration, screening, health education, testing, contact tracing, resource assistance, vaccinations, personal protective equipment distribution, and being trained, certified and deputized for public health jobs described here within.”

Howard Ehrman MD, MPH
University of Illinois Chicago
Assistant Professor
College of Medicine
Mi Villita Community Organization


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