Illinois largest Latino Covid partnership calls for a return to learning



Monday, January 10, 2022

Chicago, IL – The current standoff between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union has been painful to watch. 

Yet the standoff looks a lot like debates playing out across the U.S. as we enter the third year and fourth surge of the Covid-19 pandemic. It also shines a light on the crippling impact Covid-19 is having on our healthcare system that is losing both critical staff and the ICU beds needed to care for Covid-19 patients.  

As the largest Covid-19 partnership in the state composed of Latino doctors, public health professionals, advocates, elected officials, and community-based organizations, Illinois Unidos calls for the safety of our children and families.  We urge all school districts across the state to have an option of remote learning until proper safety protocols are in place.

Illinois Unidos has been in conversation with school districts, municipalities, and public health departments like the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools calling for implementation of appropriate and equitable safety mitigations such as 1) robust hyper-local community outreach and vaccination strategies, 2) all children have easier and extended access to vaccinations, boosters, and testing, and 3) access to PPE, including KN95s in public schools for staff, teachers, and students. Illinois Unidos stands ready to support its implementation for the sake of our children. 

Illinois Unidos doctors, like many around the country, had warned us about this current surge and the dire situation of our healthcare and hospital systems.  “Hospitals are at a breaking point. More children are getting hospitalized with Covid-19 than ever before as the Omicron variant’s dominance intensifies. Our pediatric ICUs are at capacity. The situation is only going to get worse unless we act now” Dr. Marina del Rios, co-chair of Illinois Unidos Health & Policy Committee and Emergency Medicine Physician stated. “We also are seeing an all-time high of Covid-19 cases in pregnancy, especially among moms who have other children at home.” added Dr. Melissa Simon, co-chair of the same Committee.

Hospitals in Chicago and throughout the state of Illinois have already exceeded the national overage of ICU occupancy of 77%, with UIC at 96%, Mt. Sinai at 100%, St. Bernard’s at 103%. All these hospitals serve largely Black and Latinx families that have already been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

“At the end of the day, our work is led by our commitment to an equitable response and recovery for our communities and the health of our children right now is paramount”, shared Alejandra L. Ibañez, Executive Director of Illinois Unidos. 

Families are stuck between a rock and a hard place, particularly working parents with limited or no work flexibility who must choose between working or caring for their children at home. This is an impossible decision.  We are also parents and caregivers and empathize with the frustration and despair of our children who don’t have access to schools with appropriate safety mitigations plans and practice or access to virtual learning as those plans are put in place.  

Mariana Osoria, co-chair of Illinois Unidos’ Education Committee and Senior Vice President of Partnerships & Engagement at Family Focus stated, “While we are well aware that remote learning is not ideal, our children need consistency and access to their educators, peers, and mental health programming, which many schools have been able to implement even in virtual learning situations”.

This fourth surge requires flexibility, creativity, and urgency and we call on our elected and school leaders to lead the way.  

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