Continuing the Chicago Community, Media & Research Partnership during COVID-19

Just a couple weeks before Chicago’s stay-at-home order began, we shared an update on the blog introducing the members of our partnership with the Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities at Northwestern. Since we began our work in September of 2019, the question we set out to explore has become more urgent than ever: How can we make health research more equitably accessible to populations and communities experiencing health disparities?

In late March and April, as the COVID-19 pandemic began in Chicago, we reached out to our community and ethnic media partners, patient and community partners, and PCORI-funded health research partners to check in. Here’s what they each shared about how the pandemic had impacted them thus far, how communities were coping, and what it might mean for our work.

Maudlyne Ihejirika, President of NABJ-Chicago & CJA:

“As a journalist you’re forced to be knee-deep in it, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, counting the bodies, counting the infections, hearing the very dire prognoses, hearing the developments, hearing the crises of not enough PPEs, talking to people who are impacted–either have it, are worried about it, or are on the front lines–and suddenly, you’re not a journalist. You’re an individual whose stress level is rising, whose anxiety level is rising, whose worry is rising. But you push it down, because you have a job to do. … It’s a continuous deluge.”

Taneka Jennings, Deputy Director, HANA Center:

“I just keep thinking about structural racism, and how in a time like this we’re just seeing the compounded impacts of racism and xenophobia over centuries in this country, and how that really does dictate who has access to basic human rights like health care. … Where are we in that, then, as a partnership that’s all about coming together in collective solidarity to influence narratives to advance justice? What then is our role, in the way that we disseminate information going forward?”

Phyllis Rodgers, Executive Director, PEER Plus Education & Training Advocates:

“We have personally been faced with five members that we know that have passed away. So it’s definitely had a different kind of impact on us. We want to make sure that people do understand, and understand that we have a long way to go, and to understand the information, and to ask questions if you’re not really clear. … I don’t know all the answers but I will definitely reach out.”

Jackie Serrato, Editor-in-Chief, South Side Weekly:

“We created a tracker that would break down COVID-related deaths by neighborhood. … As we expected, the South Side is being the hardest hit in this pandemic. We were seeing the largest number of deaths in the far south side in Black communities, followed by Latinx communities. I don’t think we’re surprised, but it is still a little disappointing that during a crisis, the inequities that we’ve always seen are being perpetuated. There’s just this whole question of equity that we’ve all been talking about, and access. In particular, the immigrant community that, when we talk about relief efforts, they’re completely left out of the picture.”

task force zoom screenshot
Members of Chicago Community, Media and Research Partnership at our meeting in April. Top row, from left: Phyllis Rodgers, Mareva Lindo, Maudlyne Ihejirika, Rebecca Johnson. Second row, from left: Jen Brown, Darius Tandon, Jhmira Alexander, Candace Henley. Third row, from left: Yong Hoon Lee, Jesús Del Toro, Taneka Jennings, Shyam Prabhakaran. Fourth row, from left: Young Woon Han of HANA Center, Jackie Serrato

Jesús Del Toro, Editor-in-Chief, La Raza:

“Since this is a public health issue, and since this task force, the purpose is … to better inform the public, and to help the health and wellbeing of the public, this mission is more needed than ever now. … We now face that we don’t know very well how to transfer, for example, research knowledge into news that is useful. … And since it is possible we may see more waves [of pandemics] in the future, we need to be more prepared as media to respond to that.”

Candace Henley, Executive Director, Blue Hat Foundation:

“Being up close and personal, with my mom being diagnosed, has truly had me looking at the information in two different lenses. One, from a community perspective, on how to receive the information, go through the information, and be able to process it and disseminate to the patient community. But then at the same time also, go through it a little bit deeper to verify information for my mother. … There’s an influx of information, and she doesn’t know what to believe. … It’s impactful on a mental health standpoint because it’s tiring.”

Shyam Prabhakaran, PCORI-funded researcher at University of Chicago:

“In terms of this project, I regret that we weren’t as prepared for this. And I regret we didn’t do enough in the communities that are being hit the hardest. And I regret that we didn’t think about the unintended effects of the people maybe not coming to the emergency rooms with other conditions. So all of these are coming to fruition now, that we’re seeing a crisis on the South Side, and compounded by other public health issues that are probably not being addressed.”

Yong Hoon Lee, Marketing Manager, Korea Times Chicago:

“We’ve been dealing with a lot of fake news that’s generated by our community. Every day we have people calling in about how, if you eat some flour, it would cure the COVID-19. It’s all from misinformation, this fake news that they’re receiving through SMS [texts]. There really should be something that we could do to get the word out, get the right information out, so that our readers or the general public could act in a way that’s beneficial to the community as a whole.”

Darius Tandon, PCORI-funded researcher at Northwestern University:

“This is a time where the public health community could really make some great headway related to messaging about the impact of social determinants of health. I am optimistic that society will be ready to listen, but our messages will need to be clear and concise, and I am not always convinced that we as scientists are able to do that effectively.”

Go to to learn more about the Chicago Community, Media & Research Partnership.