CHICAGO — More than 70 percent of people who have died from coronavirus in Chicago so far are Black — and the city is rolling out a plan to ensure communities of color are getting equal access to treatment and resources.
The city is issuing an order that will require all medical providers to share demographic information, including race and ethnicity, for each COVID-19 patient they test or treat. So far, the city is missing that data in about 25 percent of its returned test results.
“This is not negotiable,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.
The mayor also announced the formation of a Racial Equity Rapid Response Team, comprised of personnel from provider networks and local activists, and the release of data on cases so far.
The city will expand its outreach efforts in “economically vulnerable communities,” particularly those on the West and South sides, which have been hard hit by the virus, Lightfoot said. The outreach will focus on people older than 50 and those with underlying health conditions, as those people are most at risk from coronavirus.
“We are all in this crisis together — but we are not experiencing this crisis in the same way,” Lightfoot said. “The distribution of this disease tells a story about resources and inequality.”
Among those for whom race/ethnicity are known, 52 percent of COVID diagnoses have been in Black Chicagoans, said Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health — but only 30 percent of Chicago is Black.
Strikingly, 72 percent of deaths in Chicago residents have been in Black Chicagoans, Arwady said.
The numbers tell a story of unequal health care access, job access and community investment, the mayor added. Those are dynamics everyone has been talking “about and fighting against for years,” Lightfoot said.
“Even if we had a perfect health care system … we would still see significant health disparities,” Arwady said. “That’s because in many of our neighborhoods, it’s hard to access healthy food because of high cost [and] few grocery stores.”
Besides having more difficulty accessing healthy food, Black Chicagoans face a swathe of problems that fuel the disparity: They’re more likely to live with chronic disease, like diabetes and heart disease, which make COVID-19 riskier; they are less likely to have cars, so they can’t partake in drive-thru testing; they’re less likely to have a primary care physician whom they can rely on; and they can’t always practice social distancing because they’re more likely to have to rely on crowded corner stores for food or buses for transportation.
And misinformation has circulated in the Black community, with untrue rumors saying Black people are immune to coronavirus, Dr. Toyi Adeyimi said.
“When we talk about equity and inclusion, they’re not just nice notions. They are an imperative that we must embrace as a city,” Lightfoot said. “And we see this even more urgently when we look at these numbers and this disparity. It’s unacceptable.”
Aside from the shocking death rate among Black Chicagoans, the mayor said data shows COVID-19 cases among Latinx Chicagoans are also being underreported.
Even before this outbreak, white Chicagoans were living 8.8 years longer than Black Chicagoans.
Gov. JB Pritzker on Sunday 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.
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