Nineteen-year-old auto mechanic Arnold Herrera died suddenly Sunday, January 3, after being diagnosed with COVID-19 just a week earlier. According to family members, Herrera had been recuperating at home after becoming sick with the disease but was soon rushed to the University of Illinois Hospital on New Year’s Day as his condition worsened. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office reported he died of acute respiratory failure and pneumonia from COVID-19 only days after admission.
Similar to Sarah Simental, another Illinois teen who died from the virus on December 26, Herrera had no underlying health conditions previous to his diagnosis and was in excellent health before becoming infected. Also, like Simental, Herrera’s health rapidly deteriorated in a matter of days after his diagnosis. Herrera’s brother, Pablo Portilla, told WTOC News 11, “He told us ‘Happy New Year,’ and unfortunately after, he just had complications a full day. He was in pain, and we took him to the hospital, and that’s that.”
Herrera had just graduated from Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago in 2019 and soon became ASE-certified as a brakes and electrics specialist. He had started working at Hyundai as a skilled technician and recently earned his Hyundai Technician Certification. At the time of his death, he had been applying for an apprenticeship for Mechanics’ Union Local 701. Herrera was also a guitarist and involved with his community church.
On Facebook, Portilla posted, “I’m still in shock and disbelief. I lost my best friend and dear brother. He was always a joy every day even when tired from work. His passion was his job and his hobby, always leaving the best of him everywhere he went.” Herrera would have turned 20 in March.
Records show that Herrera is now the eleventh person in Illinois under age 20 to die from COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 493 people aged 15–24 have died from the virus across the United States. In an interview, Portilla said urgently, “It [the virus] doesn’t discriminate on age. It just happens. And we should all be careful. We shouldn’t think, ‘Oh yeah because I’m young, it’s not going to happen to me,’ like no.’” He also created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the expenses sustained from his brother’s illness with the description, “Lost my friend and brother to this awful disease. Please take COVID serious.”
Herrera’s tragic death is the result of the murderous policy of herd immunity implemented by the ruling class, represented by the Democrats and Republicans. As young workers and students are pushed back into factories, schools and other workplaces for the profits of Wall Street, the narrative of young people being only marginally affected by the disease has proven over and over again to be an outright lie. Even with vaccines starting to become available, the herd immunity policy continues unabated.
As the deaths continue to pile up, the Chicago Public School system is trudging forward with its plans to reopen schools for in-person learning. This policy will undoubtedly lead to more deaths from COVID-19. Those affected will include both teachers and students from schools around Chicago, such as Benito Juarez where Herrera attended, who will spread the virus and death throughout the city and surrounding suburbs.
The victims of the herd immunity policy are the working class. Herrera’s completely unnecessary death is the fate deemed acceptable by the ruling class in order to maintain the earnings of corporations. The reckless policy of keeping nonessential production and schools open directly corresponds to the ongoing narrative regarding the minimal risk the virus poses to young people. The purpose is to keep the working class productive and at the service of ruling-class profits regardless of the mass death and misery they inflict in the process.
It is clear that all nonessential workplaces and schools must be shut down and resources provided to ensure all workers are safe from poverty and deadly work conditions until the pandemic is suppressed. It is only through the independent mobilization of the working class through a Marxist, socialist program that the COVID-19 outbreak and the deadly policies pursued by the ruling class can be fought. The Socialist Equality Party encourages young people to join the International Youth and Students for Social Equality to help build this working-class movement and fight for socialism.