COVID-19 is raging through Chicago’s black neighborhoods — and what must be done.
Seventy-two percent of Chicagoans who have died of COVID-19 are African American. Social and economic factors play a role.
Another grim statistic about the coronavirus to Chicago: African Americans are catching the disease and dying from it at an alarmingly higher rate than the rest of us.
It is indeed, as Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, a “public health red alarm.” Seventy-two percent of those who have died of COVID-19 in Chicago as of Sunday were black, though the city’s African American population is only about 30 percent. More than half of those who had tested positive are black.
In Cook County, 58% of COVID-19 deaths as of last Friday were of African Americans, who make up just 23% of the county’s population, an analysis by WBEZ found. And in the entire state of Illinois, African Americans now account for 38% of confirmed cases of coronavirus and 41% of deaths, but only 14% of the population.
What’s going on here?
Nothing that should surprise anybody, disheartening as it is.
Health outcomes in the United States have never been fair and equal, not in Chicago or anywhere else. And there has never been health care equity. Black folks have always suffered from higher rates of dangerous medical conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, that correlate with lower incomes and poorer health care.
Even before the pandemic, the life expectancy gap between black and white Chicagoans was nine years. COVID-19 just makes that shameful inequity more obvious.
This is far from just a local embarrassment. In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, African Americans make up almost 81% of COVID-19 deaths, ProPublica found. In Michigan, 40% of COVID-19 fatalities are African American, the Detroit News reported.
And then there’s predominantly black Orleans Parish in Louisiana, where the COVID-19 infection rate is a shocking 892 per 100,000 people — higher than the rates of New York, Los Angeles, and Miami combined, The Atlantic points out.
Why virus is hurting blacks most
Several social and economic factors help explain why so many more people of color are contracting the virus.
For one, many people of color hold jobs that simply don’t allow for working at home, as so many white collar professionals are doing. Anyone who works as a grocery store clerk, bus driver or a car mechanic can’t practice social distancing to the same extent as a lawyer or corporate executive — or journalist — who can all telecommute.
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