CHICAGO — Black coronavirus victims are dying at disproportionately high rates, a problem Gov. JB Pritzker said is due, in part, to “decades, frankly, maybe centuries, of inequality of application of health care to people of color.”
In Chicago, 70 percent of the people who have died from coronavirus are Black, according to a WBEZ analysis. Black people comprise just 29 percent of Chicago’s population.
Statewide, about 30 percent of the people dying from coronavirus are Black, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Sunday. Black people are about 14.6 percent of the state’s population, according to 2019 census estimates.
“We know all too well that there are general disparities in health outcomes that play along these racial lines and the same may be true for this virus,” Ezike said.
The state has worked to address health care disparities in Black and Brown communities, and resources will be directed where they are most desperately needed, Ezike said. The state will provide an updated breakdown of coronavirus deaths on Tuesday.
Pritzker said disparities existed in health care for people of color before the crisis — and coronavirus is emphasizing those differences.
For example, in Chicago, Downtown residents live on average 16 years longer than residents of Garfield Park, whose population has a higher portion of people of color.
“We already started out with an unequal system of health care for people. It gets massively exacerbated when you bring on something like COVID-19. I’m deeply concerned about this,” Pritkzer said.
The state wants to reopen suburban hospitals like MetroSouth and West Lake to deal with the crisis, and those will be in communities with more people of color, Pritzker noted.
And while officials are trying to address the health care gap, it has years-old roots that make it hard to overcome, Pritzker said.
“But it is a much broader problem that over the course of the three or four or five weeks … that it’s hard to make up for decades, frankly, maybe centuries, of inequality of application of health care to people of color,” Pritkzer said.
And people should remember the virus “doesn’t discriminate,” Pritzker said. The best way to stay healthy is to take steps to not get the virus.
“The one thing you can do, that everybody can do, is stay home. Make sure that you are wiping down surfaces. … This is true for everybody, no matter the color of your skin or where you’re from,” he said.
During a Monday morning news conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the disparities “devastating.”
“It’s devastating to see those numbers and knowing that they’re not just numbers, they’re lives,” she said. “I’ll say more about this later, but this is something that is a public health red alarm that we have to make sure that we are stepping up as a community to address it.”
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