Like several other predominantly African American neighborhoods in Chicago, Austin has seen a disproportionately high number of COVID-19 cases.
Much of the West Side neighborhood is represented by Illinois state Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), whose district includes several western suburbs.
Ford says his constituents are suffering from a lack of resources and information about the coronavirus pandemic, and that there’s been a serious shortage of COVID-19 testing in the area.
He’s also calling on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to make more masks available at pharmacies, among other measures.
Below, an edited Q&A with Ford.
How is your district faring in the pandemic? What’s the response been like?
You have a majority community that would be, what you call essential workers, or unemployed, or seniors. So we have a makeup like that, which makes us a hard-hit community, on top of the ongoing violence and substance use overdoses. So between all of that, the West Side is struggling hard. People are not able to go to work because they might have underlying or pre-existing conditions as essential workers. And daycares are shut down. And you know, you have children and parents at home. Some essential workers have to find childcare for their children. It’s very difficult to find childcare as an essential worker. And you don’t want your children to go to their grandparent’s house because children stay away from grandparents. So it’s kind of tough, and not to mention we have not had access to testing, on the West Side. We’re just getting access to testing at a small number. So that’s difficult. There’s been a lot of burden on the community and residents.
Austin has also seen some of the highest cases from COVID-19 in the city.
Yeah, that’s exactly right. So what’s happening is in the Austin community, we haven’t had many tests, but what we have had are people that absolutely were sick. And they were sick from COVID-19. And that’s why it was discovered. Most of them went to the hospital because they were sick, not because they went to a drive-up testing site, but because they really exhibit acute COVID-19 symptoms. You’ve heard some people being tested, but they have no symptoms. Well, people pretty much in Austin community on the West Side, they were tested because they had symptoms, and they were in bad shape.
Then we have the problem of people not being talked to and educated properly on the West Side [about the virus]. That’s why you still see individuals hanging out on corners. And that’s a problem. We have a problem where we don’t have supplies and masks. The CDC recommends that if you go outside in certain areas, you need to wear a mask. But the supplies of masks are not available on the West Side. So it’s tough to guide the community, and say, “You need to wear a mask” but we have no masks for them.
What do you need immediately from the state or city in terms of resources?
So, immediately we need testing on the West Side of Chicago. We need masks that we can get in the hands of individuals intent on going outside. And for those that have to go to the stores and do essential things, we have to get masks out there on the street so that people can mask up. The CDC said that if you wear a mask, it can help slow the spread and stop the spread of the virus. So if we know this, we must champion the call for masks. And so what I did, I sent a letter to [Gov. J.B. Pritzker] and asked him to make masks eligible for Medicaid patients in Illinois. So if you have Medicaid, and beyond any type of government assistance, and if you have insurance, I’ve asked the governor to do an executive order so that individuals can go into a pharmacy and pick up masks. That’s a simple ask. The governor could make an executive order and help bring mask to all the pharmacists in the state of Illinois. So people know where the hub is to go pick up a mask.