WEST RIDGE — Progress is being made in West Ridge’s effort to curb its coronavirus cluster, though strict social distancing and other preventative measures are still needed to combat the virus, local leaders and public health officials said.
Data released on April 6 showed West Ridge’s 60645 ZIP code having 225 confirmed coronavirus cases, the highest count in the state. Two days later, the ZIP code had 272 confirmed cases, a 20 percent increase in just 48 hours.
The 60645 ZIPA as of Thursday has the fourth highest number of cases, at 519, trailing behind two South Side ZIP codes and a West Side ZIP, according to data released from the state.
That and other data shows that West Ridge’s coronavirus outbreak is “flattening,” said Dr. Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer at the Chicago Department of Public Health.
“Very early on, cases were identified in this region,” Layden said at a West Ridge virtual town hall held Thursday. “We’ve seen a flattening of the curve … in this ward, which is great.”
Local officials and health experts are not sure how West Ridge’s outbreak got started. But one reason for the spike in confirmed cases is because of the access to testing in the region, Layden and others said.
NorthShore Health System, with hospitals in Evanston and Skokie, got its testing operation online quickly, Layden said. West Ridge is also relatively close to the state’s free testing facility in Dunning.
West Ridge had the city’s highest rate of testing in early April, but other areas have since eclipsed the neighborhood in testing. The 60645 ZIP code has seen 1,499 COVID-19 tests, with at least two other ZIP codes seeing more testing, according to sthe tate.
“We don’t know for certain why” the outbreak got started in West Ridge, Layden said. “But we do think part of it was access to testing.”
The coronavirus outbreak in West Ridge has shocked some residents while leaving certain communities more vulnerable. West Ridge’s outbreak has bucked larger coronavirus trends, including the fact that the largest local segment to be confirmed with the case is 20-29 and that the majority of those infected are white.
More local data shared with the public can go a long way towards helping slow the spread of the virus, said Elena Grossman, a research specialist at the University of Illinois-Chicago’s School of Public Health and a West Ridge resident.
“I don’t know if the ‘why’ is important,” said Grossman, who has researched public health and community response. Data “is information for action. Who is at risk? What’s the rate [of infection]? We can act on that data to bring this down.”
City officials have said that stay at home measures and other social distancing efforts have slowed the virus spread in Chicago. But more can be done to curb the coronavirus’ spread, officials said.
“We must view these numbers as a call to action,” said Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th), who organized Thursday’s town hall with Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th)
One resident at the town hall asked Layden how West Ridge’s population of large families under one roof can best combat the virus. Layden said staying home helps family members to ensure that their house mates aren’t infected, and that those that must leave the house should be monitored for symptoms as much as possible.
It is also helpful to have a unified system of public communication and response, where residents of all backgrounds know where to look for information, Grossman said.
“The most important thing we can do in an outbreak is the local effort,” Grossman said. “It’s about knowing the community leaders, and getting the message out.”
Dean Bell, a West Ridge resident and the president of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, is a historian of plagues and natural disasters. He said a historical context is important to understanding the current situation.
Measures taken like staying home and the closing of public gathering spaces like houses of worship has historically worked, Bell said. Previous battles against pandemics have also produced medical advances and new social practices that have benefited humanity in the long run.
“People learn from these outbreaks,” Bell said. “We can learn important lessons. We have to patient … and make sure we build on the positive things we’ve established.”
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