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Coronavirus In Chicago: Recovery From Crisis Must Also Focus On Mental Health, Officials Say

"Caring for ourselves is a necessary act of self-preservation in which there is no shame," one expert said.

Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The coronavirus pandemic has been traumatic, officials said, and the city and state are creating programs to help people who have lost something during this time, whether that be a loved one, a job or their sense of security.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot created the COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, whose members will be focused on everything from stimulating the economy to helping Chicagoans cope and grieve. Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said the city wants to focus on mental and social recovery just as much as it does economic.

Alexa James, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago and a member of the task force, said that mental recovery will take time, though.

So far, 761 people have died of coronavirus in Chicago, and 1,933 people have died throughout the state.

On top of those bereavements, people have had to make changes, miss milestones and face financial instability, creating a “tremendous sense of loss,” she said.

“This has truly been a traumatic time for the residents of Chicago and the world. We are losing dozens of our residents every day from this disease,” James said. “The impact is deep and complicated, and the fears that people may have will continue even when the stay at home order is lifted. Recovering from this crisis won’t be easy.”

Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration has also provided mental health help, creating the Call4Calm program so people throughout Illinois can text TALK or HABLAR to 552020 to be connected with a counselor about their depression, anxiety and other emotions during the pandemic.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the administration knows Illinois will be dealing with the negative mental and social effects of the pandemic and stay at home order for years to come.

On Saturday, Pritzker also asked Dr. Angela Sedeño, director of the Kedzie Mental Health Center at 4141 N. Kedzie Ave., to speak about how her organization has seen increased demand during the crisis.

People are experiencing grief, loneliness, worry for others and strain in their personal relationships, Sedeño said. The crisis has affected people of all ages, she said, and the clinic only expects to see demand for their services rise.

“For many, the pandemic has revealed vulnerabilities. … But you are not alone,” Sedeño said. “We are experiencing this event together even as we are impacted in different ways.”

Sedeño advised people to be aware of and honor their “emotional needs for comfort, connection and calm,” and to try to get regular sleep, exercise and to eat healthy.

“There’s value in being listened to and feeling understood and knowing that you’re not alone. This is the time to take extra gentle care of yourself without judgment,” Sedeño said. “Caring for ourselves is a necessary act of self-preservation in which there is no shame. We can all benefit from talking to someone during difficult times.”

Lightfoot will announce the release of a coronavirus app at 1 p.m. Pritzker will have his briefing at 2:30 p.m.

Coronavirus Cases

• There have been 43,903 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of Sunday afternoon. Some of those patients have recovered since testing positive.

• At least 1,933 people have died in Illinois as a result of the virus.

• There have been 17,927 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chicago and at least 761 people have died.

If You Need Help

• Sick? Broke? Want To Help? Here’s A Massive List Of Coronavirus Resources In Chicago

What’s Happening In Chicago

Stay at Home: Pritzker extended the stay at home order to May 30, but there have been changes. Here’s how it’s different.

Masks: Everyone will be required to wear a face covering or mask when unable to social distance starting May 1. And yes, stores can require you to wear a face covering if you want to shop.

Here’s what you need to know about the requirement.

Non-essential Stores: Starting May 1, non-essential retail stores can reopen — but only to fulfill contactless pickup and delivery orders.

Emergency Powers: City Council voted Friday to give Lightfoot emergency powers to fight coronavirus. Critics said it was a “power grab,” but the mayor said she needs the powers — which end this summer — to save lives here.

Gig Workers: Here’s how to apply for unemployment as a gig or 1099 worker in Illinois.

• Recovery: The city has created a task force that will start exploring how Chicago can recovery financially and emotionally from the pandemic.

• Schools: Schools will remain closed during this academic year.

On Sunday, Pritzker told teachers they should use the summer to prepare for e-learning this fall, “just in case.”

Ramadan: Chicago Muslims are celebrating a Ramadan unlike any other.

• Trump: The president has come under fire after wondering aloud if disinfectants could be injected to cure coronavirus. Local health officials have urged people not to try that, noting it can be fatal — and Ezike said Illinois Poison Control has seen more callers since Trump’s comments.

Goodbyes: A Chicago doctor is collecting iPads and other tablets so her coronavirus patients can save goodbye to their loved ones.

• Testing: Officials are now saying anyone with coronavirus symptoms can get tested in Illinois. Before, they’d advised most people to simply stay at home and assume they had coronavirus.

Here’s where you can get tested in Chicago

• Large Events: Some event producers are already canceling major summer festivals — including the Silver Room Block Party and West Fest — after Pritzker said he thinks all large summer events should be nixed.

A summer without festivals would be “devastating,” but it could save lives, producers said.

• Call4Calm: People in need of mental or physical health care during the pandemic now have more free services from the state.


Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chills and shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of taste and/or smell

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion and runny nose, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

How To Protect Yourself

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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