“Examining COVID-19 with Dr. Santiago” Takes Community Members Inside the Pandemic

Kyle Knox

Gila River Indian News


Beginning Jan. 13, Gila River Health Care launched a new broadcast initiative, “Examining COVID-19 with Dr. Santiago,” to discuss the effects of the pandemic over the past two years. The one-hour segment features GRHC’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Anthony Santiago, with guests who address the many facets of COVID-19 and its effects. Additionally, each episode breaks down the COVID-19 data in the Community, its impacts, and vaccine facts in an informative and easily digestible manner. 


“The fact is that we got the medical science right, we were able to quickly identify and track the virus, and we were able to coordinate and create a highly effective vaccine,” said Dr. Santiago of where the U.S. stands at present in relationship to the pandemic. “But what we did not get right, and still haven’t gotten right, is the social science, understanding people and how they react to these types of crises.” 


While medical science is a main discussion topic, Santiago and his guests also discuss the social impacts of COVID-19. These include the shutdown of schools and work, panic and fear of the virus, lack of social relations for families and children, and its effects on the Community’s culture and traditions. 


“For the past two years, it has been a world of fear and feeling devastated because (of everything) we have gone through,” said Carol Schurz, District 2 Community Council Representative. “It breaks my heart.”


Councilwoman Schurz served as a guest in Episode Two, which first aired on Feb 10. She shared her own experiences during the pandemic and the concerns from the Community she regularly hears. In addition, the Councilwoman shared how children have been effected by virtual schooling, the decline in in-person interactions, and breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals. 


Using a rainstorm as an analogy, Dr. Santiago compared a vaccinated person to someone caught in a storm with a raincoat and umbrella to shield them from the rain. An unvaccinated person would have neither source of protection, he explained. He went on to explain that being vaccinated does not turn off the rain, but it does provides better rain protection. In the case of COVID, as he put it, a vaccine will not turn away the virus but instead prevent a person from being hospitalized or dying from the virus. 


Isaac Salcido, Director of the GRIC Tribal Education Dept., also served as a guest for Episode Two. He discussed a recent survey of school-aged children that showed how much youngsters have missed in-person schooling, being around their friends, and seeing their teachers. 


Salcido also mentioned some positives that have developed during the pandemic. He noted that many teachers and administration staff have learned to utilize technology in ways they never had before. He believes this will lead to innovative teaching strategies when in-person classes resume. Additionally, parental involvement has grown significantly compared to before the pandemic. 


With returning to in-person schooling imminent, Salcido says he will work to ensure that every school does everything possible to provide a safe learning environment. Requiring school staff and children to be vaccinated to return to school is the Community’s chosen step as part of the plan.


“Examining COVID-19” will continue to air once a month to address the concerns and impacts of COVID-19 in the Community. Episodes air live on the GRBC Facebook page and local low-powered channel 29.1.