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

April 28, 2020

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


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.

It is nearly inconceivable to think that having approximately ¼ of the economy offline nationally is not wreaking havoc on the lives and well-being of Illinoisans. Many face compounding vulnerabilities: to the virus itself and to the economic repercussions. Some Illinoisans 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.

Despite the incredible and rapid work of many professionals inside and outside of government, information that is crucial to making informed decisions remains radically incomplete. We remain uncertain about fundamental facts about the pandemic itself—the true rate of infection and whether immunity is building, for example.

We also are missing a systematic understanding of what the pandemic has meant for people’s lives and life chances—and especially what it means for those who are least able to withstand those impacts. Even with that understanding, we will need devices to pinpoint compounding vulnerabilities. We know the human toll will shake some persons and communities more than others—pinpointing those persons and places is urgently needed to minimize the fallout and provide targeted relief as the pandemic unfolds.

This Policy Spotlight considers this human toll and incorporates a tool to help visualize the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable populations.



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Research Area: none

Policy Initiative: none