University of Illinois at Chicago

Policy Spotlight: Visualizing Vulnerability and Capturing the Pandemic's Human Toll

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posted on 2021-06-14, 18:13 authored by Robin Fretwell Wilson, Moira Zellner, Ahoura Zandiatashbar
COVID-19 has created a crisis with little precedent. Illinoisans have lost family members. People have died in hospitals alone. But the human toll of the pandemic can be measured in more than lives lost. There have been other health effects, such as delayed surgery and lack of access to primary and behavioral healthcare. Many have lost jobs, which means lost health insurance, lost wages, and food insecurity. In Illinois, a half million people filed for unemployment in five weeks. For most people, the ability to shelter, clothe, feed, and care for ourselves and our families comes through productive work.
Staying at home has created the potential for increased incidents of partner and child abuse. Sheltering in place has led to feelings of hopelessness and isolation. It has frayed emotions and relationships. The existential threat posed by COVID-19 is unlike anything most Americans have experienced—except, perhaps, those who lived through the Great Depression.
The Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) launched a series of Pandemic Stress Indicators to measure and document the social and economic toll of the pandemic. For the first Pandemic Stress Indicator, IGPA collaborated with the University of Illinois Chicago’s Urban Data Visualization Lab to develop maps that visualize and identify compounding vulnerabilities, both to COVID-19 and to the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.
Many Illinoisans face compounding vulnerabilities: to the virus itself and to the economic repercussions. Some came into the pandemic with hypertension, cardiovascular, and other health conditions that increase the risk for being a severe patient. Others struggled financially long before the pandemic. Persons of color and those living in poverty number among those hardest hit by the pandemic.
Developing a holistic understanding of the pandemic’s human toll and visualizing vulnerabilities of persons and communities is crucial to minimizing the pandemic’s total harm, while helping fragile persons and populations to emerge as unscathed as possible.


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