When Yolanda Randolph speaks, her voice is barely above a whisper — one of the lingering effects of COVID-19 that she’s still dealing with three months after recovering from the virus. She said her doctors think that her diminished voice may be the result of her having been intubated while hospitalized with the disease.
Randolph was one of the several COVID-19 survivors who spoke during a virtual COVID-19 Survivors Forum held Sept. 9. The forum was organized by the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, the Sinai Community Institute and the Marshall Square Resource Network. The three organizations wanted to give Black and Hispanic survivors an opportunity to share their experiences with the disease.
The organizations were conscious of the fact that COVID-19 hit minority communities disproportionately hard, and they wanted to drive home the importance of taking protective measures and getting tested and treated early.
But the forum also ended up revealing some disparities. Although the more well-off survivors were able to get tested relatively quickly and could self-isolate, those measures were not options for survivors who lived in close quarters and had to keep working.
The forum emerged out of discussions between the members of the coordinating council’s Health and Wellness subcommittee. As they brainstormed the ways to raise awareness about the dangers of COVID-19, they felt that having survivors from North Lawndale and other communities that the Sinai Health System serves would drive the message home.
All of the survivors who ended up speaking were either Black or Hispanic, and while some came from North Lawndale, others came from Little Village, Gage Park and, in Randolph’s case, Marquette Park.
The forum was moderated by Dorothy Tucker, a North Lawndale native, CBS2 investigative reporter and a COVID-19 survivor. She explained that her symptoms were relatively mild. She had a cough and she felt tired when walking from one room to another in her own house.
Tucker said that she was already self-isolating at home when the symptoms started, because she’s been in contact with someone who tested positive. By the time the test results returned, she was already feeling better.
“I was a little surprised, but I was not completely shocked,” Tucker reflected. “Like a lot of people, I didn’t know what was happening at the time.”
Ald. Michael Scott (24th), whose ward includes most of North Lawndale, tested positive for COVID-19 in early August, a day after he attended a press conference with Mayor Lori Lightfoot. He reflected that his job only allowed so much social distancing. Like Tucker, he only experienced mild fatigue, but he didn’t think it might be due to COVID-19. Scott said that if he didn’t get tested in late July, he might not have realized anything was amiss.
“I kind of freaked out, because I’ve been around so many people,” he said, explaining that he hosted a community event only a few days earlier.
Like Tucker, Scott was able to self-isolate in his home, and his wife and kids self-isolated separately. Because his wife was a “neat freak,” he said, they had no shortage of cleaning supplies to regularly wipe surfaces, which is why he believed he didn’t infect anyone else.
“Fortunately for me, I didn’t give it to my family,” Scott said. “I self-quarantined and self-isolated in the basement for 14 days. Everybody is fine, everybody is healthy, and I’m just blessed that I didn’t give it to my family.”
But other speakers didn’t have the same advantages Tucker and Scott had. Kareemah Martin, of North Lawndale, didn’t have any room to self-isolate where her stepfather and mother got sick. When she caught the virus, the symptoms came on quickly, she said. She felt fatigued, her body ached and struggling to keep her food down. Before long, her symptoms got to the point where she had to be carried into the hospital.
“They gave me a COVID test, once I told them that my entire house was sick,” Martin recalled. “Maybe the second day I was in the hospital, I started vomiting pure fluid. I ended up developing breathing problems.”
That last medical issue was compounded by the fact that she has asthma. At the time, doctors believed that the steroids used to treat the virus would make the symptoms worse (which has since turned out to be untrue), so she was left with nothing but water to treat her asthma.
Many of the survivors who shared their experiences said that they were reluctant to go to the doctor or just didn’t feel the urgency. Crystal Randolph, Yolanda Randolph’s daughter, explained that her mom got COVID-19 in March, after attending a funeral service for a family member. She didn’t live with her mother, but she could tell from her mother’s voice that things were getting worse.
“She had a biopsy [scheduled] on March 27, and she was like, ‘I’m going to the hospital [then], let’s wait,'” Randolph said. “Unfortunately, we did.”