As coronavirus continues to ravage the country, striking majority minority communities, one of the hardest hit has been the city of Chicago, which has emerged as one of the leading areas where African Americans are suffering infections and deaths disproportionately.
Chicago news station WBEZ reports that while Blacks make up 23 percent of the Cook County, Illinois population, they make up 58 percent of deaths from COVID-19, based on data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
In Chicago proper, where Blacks are 29 percent of the population, largely concentrated on the South and West sides, 61 of the 86 coronavirus deaths recorded -- or 70 percent -- were Black. Underlying health conditions like respiratory issues and diabetes were comorbidities, according to the data. Hypertension and diabetes, or in some instances, as chronic diseases were both, present in 81 percent of cases.
These illnesses typically either cause immune function weaknesses or respiratory issues or both, allowing COVID-19 to do serious and sometimes lethal damage.
“It’s disturbing and upsetting, but not surprising,” Linda Rae Murray, health policy professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago told WBEZ. “This is just a reflection of the facts that we already know about these pandemics. People who are vulnerable will die quicker and won’t have as many resources.”
Among African Americans in Illinois, cornonavirus has become a statewide scourge.
Figures from the Illinois Department of Public Health released last week show that as of last week at least 848 Blacks in the state have contracted the disease, becoming the second-highest ethnic group there infected, and making up 28 percent of the 3,026 cases reported last week the Chicago Crusader reports. Whites were 39 percent, or 1,180 of the total.
Health officials believe the disparities in afflictions of underlying conditions are a clear marker of why Blacks are being disproportionately affected.
“As we put on our health equity lens, we already know [that] before COVID was ever established that the health outcomes for various communities are already different,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health told WBEZ. “So if you know those disparities exist in terms of health outcomes, you can imagine that overlaying a new disease is only going to exacerbate whatever inequities already exist.”
Chicago joins other cities including Milwaukee, just 90 minutes north, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia who have reported an increased number of COVID-19 cases affecting the Black community.
A report from ProPublica shows coronavirus mushrooming in Black communities as a result of the higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, asthma and heart disease. And a report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene revealed that the most concentrated areas of COVID-19 cases were found in low income communities of color in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. While New Orleans now has the dubious distinction of having a higher death-rate per capita than even New York CIty.
“COVID is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in our communities, the historical injustices and the impact of residential segregation,” Dr. Camara Jones, an epidemiologist and visiting fellow at Harvard University, told ProPublica.
“This is the time to name racism as the cause of all of those things. The overrepresentation of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance. … It’s because we’re not valued.”
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