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Chicago’s First COVID Victim Died 2 Years Ago. The City’s Made Progress Since Then, But ‘We Are Not Done,’ Officials Say

"We cannot stop working until vaccination percentages for every demographic in our city are as close to 100 percent as possible," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot answers questions from the press at a City Hall press conference on Dec. 21, 2021, where it was announced that proof of COVID-19 vaccine will be required for Chicago bars, restaurants and gyms starting Jan. 3.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The city on Tuesday marked the two-year anniversary of its first known COVID-19 loss: Patricia Frieson, a 61-year-old woman from Auburn Gresham.

Frieson was the first known Chicagoan to die from COVID-19 on March 16, 2020; days later, her sister also died from the virus. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, honored the women during a news conference Tuesday — and noted that while Chicago has made strides in fighting COVID-19 in the past two years, there is still a ways to go.

In particular, more needs to be done to ensure all Chicagoans have equitable access to health care and are getting vaccinated against COVID-19, officials said.

Arwady and Lightfoot said officials feared what impact the pandemic would have on Chicago’s communities of color even during the early days of COVID-19, as they knew those communities struggled more with issues like unequal access to healthy foods and health care.

Their fears were realized when data about the virus began to pour in, showing Black and Latino Chicagoans were seeing disproportionately high numbers of cases and deaths, Lightfoot said.

That gap has lessened with time, but concerns remain — namely, that vaccinations continue to lag among Black Chicagoans, especially those living on the South Side.

About 71 percent of white Chicagoans are fully vaccinated, but that number dips to 67.3 percent among Latino Chicagoans and 55.4 percent for Black Chicagoans.

“We cannot stop working until vaccination percentages for every demographic in our city are as close to 100 percent as possible,” Lightfoot said. At another point, she said, “We do have more work to be done. The pandemic is not over.”

Sisters Wanda Bailey, left, and Patricia Frieson died from COVID-19. Frieson of Auburn Gresham, was the first coronavirus fatality in Illinois.

The city partnered with community organizations who shared accurate information about COVID-19 residents and recruited “ambassadors” who went door to door in some neighborhoods to talk to people about getting vaccinated. The earliest vaccines were also prioritized for communities of color hit hard by the virus.

But some residents have hesitated to get the shots, citing concerns about misinformation or needing more time to think about and research the vaccines.

Lightfoot said the city is now looking at other strategies it can use to build trust and vaccinate more Chicagoans.

“We have literally tried every kind of strategy, from working with our partners in communities, offering various financial incentives, using national influencers, using local influencers, going door to door, vaccinating at home …,” Lightfoot said. “So, we’re looking at other ways in which we can really focus on those ZIP codes, in particular, that are under-vaccinated … .”

Officials will work with stakeholders in less-vaccinated communities to “drive home the realities” of the virus and how it disproportionately killed and sickened Black Chicagoans, especially during the recent Omicron wave.

“I don’t believe scare tactics work, but I do believe you’ve gotta tell people the truth and equip them with the data so you can make educated choices,” Lightfoot said.

But data shows many people aren’t saying they’ll never get vaccinated — most of them are still just saying they want to think about the shots and get educated, Lightfoot said.

Arwady said the city will also keep up its at-home vaccination program and is working on how it can ensure every resident is connected to a trusted health care provider who can provide them with accurate information about getting vaccinated.

“You start getting into those conversations, building some of those relationships. I do think that’s going to be a place to then sort of bring vaccinations into that conversation,” Arwady said. “We are not done.”

Similarly, the city isn’t done with its work to make all of health care more equitable in Chicago, the officials said.

Even before the pandemic, Black Chicagoans live nine years less than white residents, on average, Arwady said.

With that in mind, officials worked to create more equitable health care programs and strategies that targeted COVID-19 but will last beyond the pandemic, so they can be used to target other aspects of residents’ care.

Vaccinations:

• In Illinois, about 8.1 million people — or 64.1 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.

• Across the state, 8,554 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 21,248,434 vaccine doses of the 25,620,845 provided to them.

• City data shows more than 1.8 million Chicagoans — or 69.7 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 77 percent of all Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot.

Everyone 5 and older is eligible to get vaccinated in Chicago.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.

The numbers:

• Since Monday, 32 Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19.

• At least 33,139 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 4,253 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.

• The state reported 1,574 cases since Monday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 3,049,616.

• Since Monday, 56,744 tests were reported statewide. In all, 56,009,446 tests have been reported in Illinois.

• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 1.4 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 1.3 percent Monday.

• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 1.4 percent. It was at 1.4 percent Monday.

• As of Monday night, 94 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 47 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.

• In Chicago, nine deaths were reported since Monday. There have been at least 7,312 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of more than one person dying per day, down 50 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago has had 321 confirmed cases reported since Monday. It’s had a total of 561,992 confirmed cases. An average of 132 confirmed cases are being reported per day, down 15 percent from a week ago.

• Testing in Chicago is down 8 percent from a week ago.

• Chicago’s positivity rate was at .7 percent, down from .8 percent a week ago.

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