Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike speaks at Friday's coronavirus briefing alongside Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

The People is our section for all opinions concerning Black Chicago. In this opinion piece, award-winning columnist Derrick Clifton shares their thoughts on coronavirus response from local and federal government leaders.

They say charity begins at home. Even the definition of charity seems awfully mangled these days.

The many coronavirus headlines tell their own tale. On any given day of social distancing, Chicagoans get treated to press briefings from the likes of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and even President Donald Trump — whose lackluster leadership worsened the situation in the first place. His response from Washington, D.C., doesn’t even begin to compare to our local leaders, including health experts and officials, who have educated, comforted, and fought for the public during a time riddled with fear, hopelessness, angst and isolation. 

Medical workers, janitors, grocery clerks and others — all everyday champions in their own way — continue working to provide vital services amid a major health scare. They deserve our care and appreciation, even if the man occupying the nation’s highest office can’t muster the will to truly let them know how much they matter. 

Trump has not once acknowledged his role in escalating the coronavirus pandemic. He needed to act sooner, but instead, he chose to remain asleep at the wheel, casting aside the virus as a “hoax,” quipping that “it’ll go away once the weather breaks,” and paying more attention to the stock market rather than keeping the lives of citizens top of mind. And as new reports revealed, at least four senators allegedly sold off a fortune in stocks more than a month ago, knowing full well what we might be facing. 

As of Friday (March 20) afternoon, in Illinois alone, 585 people have contracted the virus and five people have died, as the numbers go up by the day. One would think Trump could find a meaningful way to acknowledge the more than 200 deaths to date nationwide. 

At least Gov. Pritzker has had as much consideration during his press briefings this week, where he took time at the top of his remarks to adequately and appropriately note the in-state deaths and nod to the grieving families with sincere words of condolence. 

Illinois’ Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike has routinely delivered her top-level remarks both in English and in Spanish, detailing the measures being taken to contain the virus and the resources available. Yes, it’s inclusive of a population that’s been downtrodden enough by the current White House administration. It’s also about helping ensure vital health information reaches as many people as possible, given that Spanish is the second-most spoken language in both Illinois and the United States. Where’s that kind of consideration from Washington during a time like this?

Honestly, the consideration is lacking. In the White House briefing room, Trump referred to the illness as the “Chinese virus” during White House briefings and refuses to acknowledge how doing so reinforces the kind of racism that has given way to Asian people getting physically attacked in public, as though the health crisis is their fault.  

A week into social distancing for coronavirus, we’re still inching along to wait for more financial relief from Congress, where battles over class and economic inequality have run rampant amidst a divided House and Senate. With Illinois now facing roughly two weeks of a shelter-in-place policy, it seems that Democrats are fighting for people to have more than a few scraps, and perhaps $10,000 in student loan cancellation. At press time, Trump himself may have invoked emergency powers. And yet he’s still doing the bare minimum, while hiding behind a podium and taking credit from other experts for things he hasn’t done or may not do. 

Meanwhile, by comparison, Gov. Pritzker called for a halt on utility shutoffs, including gas, electricity and telecommunications. And during her March 19 address, Mayor Lightfoot announced a relief package that includes corporate and charitable donations to aid public schools and people experiencing poverty, a moratorium on vehicle ticketing and debt collection, and assistance for small businesses that are suffering because of widespread closures. She also called upon property owners to give tenants extended grace periods to catch up on rent payments so people know they have a place to stay amidst the uncertainty about their finances.

Even before social distancing and school closures began, Lightfoot repeatedly encouraged people who were sick to stay home, out of consideration for the health of their peers. It’s common sense, even though many people don’t have access to generous sick leave policies or the ability to work from home. This crisis may lend itself to work culture and public policy changes in that regard. 

But Lightfoot’s act of asking people to consider the needs of others is much more mindful and community-oriented than bloviating past the human toll of the coronavirus, as Trump has done. His overall disposition and his actions so far suggest that sick people are a mere barrier to push past, regardless of a lack of resources available to help.

These contrasts matter. During a time of crisis, leadership can emerge from virtually anywhere. But when it’s lacking from the place where people would expect it most — from the desk of the president of the United States — it’s even more important for Chicagoans to count the many blessings we have right in our own backyard. That can and should include each and every one of us doing what we can to take care of ourselves and each other right now.