City officials on Monday released a racial breakdown that underscores how disproportionately the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting black Chicagoans.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the numbers “take your breath away.”
She added: “We're all in this crisis together, but we are not experiencing this crisis in the same way.”
“This is a call-to-action moment for all of us. When we talk about equity and inclusion, they are not just nice notions,” she said. “They are an imperative that we must embrace as a city. And we see this even more urgently when we look at these numbers.”
Lightfoot’s data release came the day after WBEZ reported that the COVID-19 disease is killing black residents in Chicago and across Cook County at disproportionately higher rates compared with the rest of the population.
While black residents make up only 23% of the population in Cook County, as of Sunday morning, they accounted for more than half of the COVID-19 deaths. In Chicago, blacks are 29% of the population, but they account for more than 70% of the virus deaths.
“This is not just about racial and ethnic disparities in the outcomes,” the mayor said. “It tells a story about resources and inequality. A story about unequal health care access, job access and community investment.”
To address such long-standing inequities, Lightfoot also announced the city will be deploying racial equity rapid response teams that will be charged with identifying and helping vulnerable Chicagoans get services.
These teams will be working with community groups like West Side United, an organization advocating for health and economic wellness in Chicago’s West Side communities, and AARP, which advocates for services for the elderly.
“West Side United has a model that works, and we will deploy it in the West and South sides,” Lighftoot said. “This will be a hyperlocal, tactical effort to reach vulnerable people, educate them about options and connect them with resources to help fight the spread of this disease.”
Lightfoot says she’s also implementing an order to require healthcare workers to collect detailed demographic data immediately. She said the data is needed in order to understand the impact the pandemic is having on communities of color. That data, she said, would be released regularly to the public.
The city on Monday also released racial breakdown data for testing.
Most of the black COVID-19 patients who have died had underlying health conditions including respiratory problems, diabetes and high blood pressure.
At his daily news conferences, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has said he is “deeply concerned” about the alarmingly high mortality rate for blacks as the coronavirus continues to spread.
“I've seen these stats, not just for Illinois, but also for Michigan and for a couple of other states where it's also true,” the governor said.
Experts say the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on blacks is partly a consequence of historic factors including poverty, crowded and segregated housing, and limited access to medical treatment.
“It's hard to make up for decades, frankly, maybe centuries, of inequality” in health care, Pritzker noted Sunday.
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.