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*** UPDATED x2 *** An emergency within an emergency

Monday, Apr 6, 2020

* Maria Ines Zamudio and Elliott Ramos

The COVID-19 virus is killing black residents in Cook County at disproportionately high rates, according to early data analyzed by WBEZ.

While black residents make up only 23% of the population in the county, they account for 58% of the COVID-19 deaths. And half of the deceased lived in Chicago, according to data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

As of Saturday, 107 of Cook County’s 183 deaths from COVID-19 were black. In Chicago, 61 of the 86 recorded deaths – or 70% – were black residents. Blacks make up 29% of Chicago’s population.

The majority of the black COVID-19 patients who died had underlying health conditions including respiratory problems and diabetes. Eighty-one percent of them had hypertension, or high blood pressure, diabetes or both. […]

“It’s disturbing and upsetting, but not surprising,” said Dr. Linda Rae Murray, health policy professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “This is just a reflection of the facts that we already know about these pandemics. People who are vulnerable will die quicker and won’t have as many resources.”


*** UPDATE 1 *** Press release…

The following statement was issued by SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana president Greg Kelley in response to news of the disproportionately high number of African American victims of the coronavirus:

    CHICAGO–”News that a disproportionate number of African Americans, particularly Black males, die as a result of the coronavirus disease is shocking, yet not surprising. For far too long, officials have talked about and planned strategies to address economic and health disparities that exist among African Americans. The current pandemic demonstrates the dismal impact of their efforts.

    “As a Black male, these statistics further heighten my concern for our members. They are the predominantly African American healthcare workers who are undervalued members of the workforce without whom no medical delivery would be possible.

    “The person who transports patients, does the laundry, cleans the patient or prepares the food, and more, is likely to be Black. These same “essential” workers – people prone to underlying health conditions – have to labor without proper protective equipment, fight for decent wages and many can’t afford health insurance at the institutions where they work.

    “The coronavirus is a devastating disease that we must work together to overcome. The bigger disease is the one that continues to perpetuate these conditions in the African American community. Let’s declare racism as a pandemic and put forth the proper resources to address it.”

*** UPDATE 2 *** Better late than never, I suppose

Calling it a “public health red alarm,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot pledged on Monday that her administration will unveil a plan to address the coronavirus’ toll on black and brown Chicagoans after data showed they were being hit especially hard by the disease.

About 70% of Chicagoans who have died from COVID-19 are African American, Lightfoot acknowledged.

“It’s devastating to see those numbers and knowing that they’re not just numbers, they’re lives, there’s families and communities that have been shattered,” Lightfoot said. “That’s why we will be announcing a very robust and immediate comprehensive plan to address this.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Six Feet of Separation (temporary name) - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 9:47 am:

    We simply don’t know enough yet to make a snap judgment on why this is. Is there a physiology in the disease that makes blacks more susceptible? Are the precautions not being followed on average? As a group, are blacks less likely to seek diagnosis and treatment early? The one item that has come up in the news recently is how men are disproportionately being affected by COVID around the world.

  2. - Angry Republican - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 9:47 am:

    Sadly, this is also true in other cities - Detroit, New York, District of Columbia.

  3. - Poverty - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 9:49 am:

    Remember, younger individuals often present asymptomatically, meaning they could carry it (and spread it to older adults) without knowing. Consider the prevalence of multi-generational housing among communities of color:

    There is also a well documented prevalence of risk factors (diabetes, heart disease, cardio-vascular disease, hypertension, etc) among communities of color. Food insecurity is also high, meaning these individuals are likely struggling to socially isolate.

    There’s been a lot of misinformation on the internet suggesting that there’s some genetic risk factor at play here. It’s not the genetic component of race, it’s the social component (read: poverty) that’s exacerbated here in Chicago.

  4. - Sonny - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 9:50 am:

    There needs to be a coordinated response based on this actionable data. A start would be offering shuttle services to preassigned hospitals that are prepared to deal with symptomatic cases. Flood the available - I’m aware they are limited - testing resources into the affected zip codes. Other, ones we referred to as “less developed” or worse in the recent past, countries are delivering packages with two weeks worth of masks and food, toiletries to help people shelter in place and protect their families. Start making those available to community centers - perhaps shuttered schools - in these areas or set up 311 to facilitate deliveries.

  5. - Rod - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 9:52 am:

    The city of Chicago and its department of health now is including racial data in its daily public report which is downloadable in PDF format. That I suspect is due to WBEZ which really opened up this issue withits reporting yesterday and was in fact mentioned during the governor’s press conference yesterday.

  6. - Montrose - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 9:52 am:

    I’ve talked with a lot of people about how this crisis hits everyone - all races, all geographies, all incomes. What we need to talk about is how while that is true, systemic racism once again makes it hit people of color harder than everyone else.

  7. - illinifan - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 9:58 am:

    Maybe after this we will begin to address the long standing issue of health disparities. Unfortunately it will take decades and multiple changes to health care access and education to fully address this.It is one of the issues Obamacare was designed to address.

  8. - Norseman - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 10:25 am:

    No, this is not surprising. Sad and disconcerting, but not surprising. Health disparities among minorities has been a known quantity for many years. That is why IDPH created the Center for Minority Health. The task of addressing those disparities continues albeit in an environment where revenue will be dropping drastically.

  9. - lakeside - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 10:34 am:

    In addition to the health and housing disparities, you’ve also got income and wealth disparities. In a county like Cook, you’ve got a lot of middle class people (in Cook, a lot of white folks) ‘working from home’ (it me; here I am on capfax instead), and a lot of lower income people (predom people of color in this county) left doing the essential activities on behalf of the upper classes. Running back and forth to amazon distribution centers and around the city or doing home health care work or working at a grocery stoeet is going to get you sick eventually.

    And if you don’t have insurance because your job doesn’t offer it to you or you’re 1099-ed, you’re in trouble because you can’t get the care you need.

    The response in the US to this pandemic is to have low income people (and drs, nurses and first responders) risk their lives so that the rest of us don’t get sick. It’s pretty messed up.

  10. - Soccermom - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 10:38 am:

    Four weeks ago, I was extremely alarmed by the online disinformation that black people are naturally immune to this virus. I tried to alert people I knew who were influential, both in government and the non-profit sector. It seemed clear to me that this lie was being purposely promoted by online trolls.

    I was beside myself, given the high percentage of people in the African-American community who have diabetes, high blood pressure, and lung and cardiovascular disease — the co-morbidities that make this virus more likely to be fatal.

    No one listened to me — and someone actually accused me of racism.

    I don’t know if this could have been prevented or ameliorated, but it is breaking my heart.

  11. - Captain Who - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 10:44 am:

    From what I have read, it’s not just high blood pressure and diabetes but the underlying obesity. The death rate in New Orleans is so high because of the obesity factor.

  12. - Amalia - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 10:47 am:

    @Soccermom, sorry someone accused you of racism. Had not heard that online disinformation, awful. Poverty is the reason behind many health problems, and also violence. It’ sad, but true.

  13. - Nadigam - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 10:55 am:

    This discussion starts with @Poverty’s 9:49am comment. Please read to get a fundamental reason for what is happening.

  14. - Generic Drone - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 10:56 am:

    When Covid first hit, I was concerned about how it may affect Hispanic communities. Sometimes they pack in small communities and housing.

  15. - Soccermom - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 11:01 am:

    Thanks, Amalia. it was annoying - but I am more distressed that I couldn’t find a way to help.

  16. - Candy Dogood - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 11:09 am:

    I have a lot of questions about the folks who are here creating justifications for the data that rely on a handful of tried and true stereotypes to explain this kind of data away.

    But, I’ll just leave it at bless your hearts.

    It’s also unacceptable to suggest that this is a problem that will take decades to resolve. Ridiculous. Implement single payer healthcare and take for profit entities out of the healthcare economy and then allow physicians to be physicians rather than employees in a money grabbing organization — to such an extent that during a pandemic healthcare companies are laying off their providers.

  17. - St. Patty's Ghost - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 11:23 am:

    @Candy Dogood

    ===…in a money grabbing organization — to such an extent that during a pandemic healthcare companies are laying off their providers.===

    These folks are being laid off as they are typically in areas of elective medical services. Elective procedures have been cancelled so the country can focus on covid-19 and the surge that is going to hit.

  18. - Rich Hill - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 11:45 am:

    For an excellent discussion of how socioeconomic issues shape disasters such as this one, I highly recommend Erik Klinenberg’s book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. His subject is the 1995 heat wave, but the themes play out again and again in hurricanes and epidemics.

  19. - Amalia - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 12:33 pm:

    @Soccermom, you may have helped earlier, and now with another warning. thank you.

  20. - Cool Papa Bell - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 1:08 pm:

    If you have a problem talking race during a pandemic or really at any other time of your life just replace communities of color with poor and throw in rural too. Might be more comfortable for you.

    What’s happening in Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans ect. Will be the same if the virus gets hold in areas of Illinois or elsewhere that are miles from critical care hospitals. Entire smalls towns in the US are going to be impacted by this when its all over.

  21. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 1:48 pm:

    Candy. If I am not mistaken, China, Spain and italy have single payer systems.

  22. - Excitable Boy - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 2:12 pm:

    - If I am not mistaken, China, Spain and italy have single payer systems. -

    Did the virus impact certain ethic or socioeconomic groups at more disproportionate rates than others in those countries?

  23. - Soccermom - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 2:35 pm:

    Candy, I’ll walk with you halfway down the road. When we come out of this, I am going to do everything I can to elect people who are wholeheartedly supportive of fixing our broken healthcare system. But the co-morbidities that are so widespread in the African-American community won’t disappear immediately upon passage of universal healthcare.

    But you know - -I think a good time to have a conversation about improving community health would be after we freaking make sure everybody has healthcare coverage.

  24. - Shytown - Monday, Apr 6, 20 @ 4:12 pm:

    The numbers don’t lie. But this has far more to do with underlying conditions, listed in the mayor’s announcement, of illnesses such as heart and lung disease, smoking related illnesses and diabetes. That can be tied to a number of factors from including hereditary to lack of access and good health care to the income gap. It’s all connected. It’s shameful that so many more people of color and in particular African Americans are being hit by this and hopefully we can learn some lessons from this once we get passed it all.

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