FIRSTHAND: Coronavirus WTTW Documentary Series


FIRSTHAND: Coronavirus
One-Hour Special Compiled from WTTW Digital Documentary Series
Monday, May 18, 9:00 pm and
Thursday, May 21 at 8:00 pm on WTTW

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, WTTW hit the streets of Chicago to film the 15-part digital series FIRSTHAND: Coronavirus, produced and released in real time, that explored the personal, firsthand perspectives of a diverse group of Chicagoans facing the crisis. As each confronted an unseen adversary in a strange world, some stepped up to help others, some struggled to adapt to a new normal, and others found creative ways to keep their livelihoods afloat.

Their stories make up a new one-hour special that will premiere on WTTW on Monday, May 18 at 9:00 pm, which will also be available on wttw.comTwitter, and FacebookOne of the stories was featured on PBS NewsHour, raising the profile of Chicago coronavirus issues to a national level. 

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FIRSTHAND: Coronavirus stories:

·         Jahmal Cole: When My Block, My Hood, My City founder Jahmal Cole sees people in need, he takes action. As a public health crisis descends on Chicago, it’s clear that plenty of people are hurting.

·         Tina Renaldi: Tina is homeless and living on a subterranean downtown sidewalk. As the Governor of Illinois issues a “stay-at-home” order, she wonders how she is going to survive now that her usual resources have disappeared in the wake of the virus. 

·         Father Stephen Kanonik, On any given Sunday, Fr. Kanonik, a priest at St. Benedict Parish in Chicago, delivers Mass to as many as 1,200 parishioners. With the “stay-at-home” order, he suddenly finds himself alone and searching for new ways to bring together his scattered flock.

·         Falguni Dave: It is Nurse Falguni Dave’s first day working on a COVID-19 unit, a 12-hour shift covered in layers of protective gear. She worries about becoming infected, and struggles with living apart from her family until the epidemic subsides.

·         Sammy Dattulo: While most workers are quarantined, Sammy Dattulo hits the streets before dawn to collect their garbage, knowing that if he doesn’t do his job, others could be exposed to COVID-19. But Sammy knows that handling garbage could put him at risk.

·         Michelle Garcia: Michelle, an advocate for people with disabilities in the Latinx community, has cerebral palsy and is also caring for her bedridden husband in the wake of his spinal injury. But coronavirus has made Michelle’s work even more vital to her community.

·         Eric Kwok: As Chinatown food services company owner Eric Kwok fights to save local restaurants, outright racism is putting community members at risk. Eric’s company is solving both problems by arranging food delivery services for elderly Chinese-Americans. 

·         Nancy Arcadio: Nancy Arcadio’s small Logan Square corner grocery store was on life support when the coronavirus descended on Chicago. The family came up with an innovative way to bring in customers during the crisis, giving Iguala Grocery a second life.

·         Sherry Boswell: When her elderly mother’s memory care facility went on lockdown, Sherry Boswell was barred from visiting in person. But on a recent drive past her mom’s home, Sherry impulsively pulled over; the result was an emotional encounter through glass. 

·         Will Duncan:  Soon after he bought the legendary music venue FitzGerald’s, Will Duncan had to close due to the coronavirus. Will now stages weekly gigs from the back of a moving pickup truck for audiences gathered on front lawns, and those watching the live stream from home.

·         Jennifer Schaff: The excitement of Jennifer Schaff’s pregnancy turned to “flat out fear” as coronavirus spread across the city, but she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Now they face new concerns as they care for a fragile new life while working out childcare for their two-year-old.

·         Che Chapple: The family of truck driver Che Chapple is suffering financially due to his reduced work hours. But Che also suffers from diabetes, which makes the virus potentially life-threatening. Che has seen others like him succumb to the virus in his South Side community.

·         Dameka Edwards-Hart and Ashley Edwards: When sisters Dameka and Ashley lost their 57-year-old father to coronavirus, they felt not only loss, but deep guilt. After both Dameka and her father fell ill subsequent to celebrating at her birthday party, she wonders whether she might have infected him.

“In the month that we filmed this project, the U.S. death toll from the virus rose from fewer than 500 to almost 50,000,“ said executive producer Dan Protess. “We set out to capture little stories about Chicagoans’ personal tragedies and triumphs, which were playing out against the backdrop of this mounting national crisis.”

The FIRSTHAND: Coronavirus series launched on March 24 on WTTW’s Facebook channel and online at, and is streaming on-demand on and on the WTTW/PBS video app. 

FIRSTHAND: Coronavirus is a WTTW Digital production, produced and directed by Pat Odom. Director of Photography: Kimmer Olesak; Editor: Ken Hall; Associate Producer: Jessica Martinaitis; Original Score: Allie n Steve Mullen; Art Director: Linda Fox; Executive Producers: Dan Protess and Anne Gleason.

Major support for FIRSTHAND: Coronavirus was provided by The Grainger Foundation, Allstate Insurance Company, Ann and Rich Carr, Jim and Kay Mabie, and David Snyder and Dr. Margaret Salamon.

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