People walk through downtown Chicago amid fears of coronavirus on March 12, 2020. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

DOWNTOWN — More than 500 Chicagoans have lost their lives to coronavirus since this crisis began, and 287 of those victims were Black residents, officials announced Monday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and others said they’re trying to battle that disparity through a number of new measures: The city has created a Racial Equity Rapid Response Team and that group is partnering with community organizations in Austin, Auburn Gresham and South Shore to help those communities, which have been hit hard by the virus.

The teams will look for solutions to help end the onslaught of issues aggravating the crisis in communities of color. That includes looking at how they can help people who are food insecure, how they can increase testing capacity and how they can increase access to health care, Lightfoot said.

“We may all be experiencing this crisis, but we aren’t experiencing this crisis in the same way,” Lightfoot said at a Monday press conference. “Our immediate efforts are focused on Austin, Auburn Gresham and South Shore — communities chosen because they’re experiencing some of the worst impacts of this crisis and show the clearest need for immediate action.”

Together, the organizations will strategize how to best help communities of color. They’ll focus on education, prevention, supportive services and testing and treatment for coronavirus.

As part of that, the groups will host three virtual town halls this week. The town halls will be streamed on social media:

  • South Shore: 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday at @southshoreworks
  • Auburn Gresham: 10:30 a.m.-noon Saturday at @gagdcchicago
  • Austin: 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday at @act.chicago

Already, the groups and city are working together to distribute protective equipment, including 60,000 face masks, at various spots, and they’re looking at how to best reach people with underlying health conditions, who are most at risk from coronavirus.

The groups are also working to send out postcards and fliers with information about coronavirus and how to stay safe.

The measures come several weeks after Chicago’s leaders acknowledged there are dramatic disparities for Black Chicagoans as the city tries to combat coronavirus.

Though Chicago’s population is just 30 percent Black, 46 percent of confirmed cases here have been in Black people — and at least 60 percent of the people who have died were Black, said Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

In comparison, about 17 percent of the victims were Latino/Hispanic, 17 percent were White, 4.8 percent were Asian and 1 percent have been White.

Officials said they’re also worried there’s underreporting of cases in the Latino/Hispanic community, which is seeing growing cases.

Lightfoot said she hopes the actions taken now to help communities of color will be continued even after the coronavirus crisis so Chicago can see an end to decades-only inequalities.

“The very issues that place incredible burdens on our families before this crisis have only grown exponentially more during this crisis,” Lightfoot said. “And thrust into high relief [is] how the issues of equity and opportunity are truly matters of life and deaths. We cannot simply stand for that here in Chicago.

“… These trends didn’t start overnight and they won’t end overnight or by the close of this crisis, but they must end.”


Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

How To Protect Yourself

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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