Leaders scramble to save thousands of Blacks dying from COVID-19 as years of neglect, unaddressed health care disparities fuel a spiraling health crisis
By Erick Johnson
A stunning report showing Blacks in Chicago have the highest death rate from COVID-19 has set off a citywide effort to save thousands of people of color from a spiraling pandemic. The health crisis has put many Blacks at risk and out of work in a city notoriously known for its segregation and historic economic inequities.
One day after declaring war on the pandemic, sources told the Crusader that Mayor Lori Lightfoot reached out to Black churches to become possible sites for testing centers. Leaders say testing is a big step in preventing the spread of the virus among residents who, for years, have distrusted hospitals while having little to no access to adequate medical care.
This week, the Congressional Black Caucus, NAACP and the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus held a flurry of emergency virtual town hall meetings to address the rising death tolls among Blacks in U.S. cities. There is also concern about the growing unemployment rate that has left many Blacks out of work and unable to pay their bills.
Governor J.B. Pritzker has extended his stay-at-home order as the number of coronavirus cases is expected to peak by the end of the month.
At Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side, health officials have tested an average of 350 first responders a day—many of them Black—since the temporary facility opened April 2. By 8.a.m. on Tuesday, April 7, a line of cars stretched down 111th Street to Wentworth Avenue where it then stretched south to 114th Street. By noon that day, the line shrank to 112th Street.
Individuals were offered a $75 blood test to detect the virus or a $200 swab test with a Q-tip. The tests are usually covered by an individual’s health insurance.
Health officials are still urging citizens not to show up at hospitals if they are not showing any symptoms of COVID-19. Symptoms include high-fever, body aches, heavy coughing and difficulty breathing.
One caregiver of a patient who died from COVID-19 told the Crusader that she was advised not to get tested, despite being in close contact with an infected person. Health officials say individuals who have the symptoms, but don’t have a history of underlying medical conditions, can stay home and self-quarantine.
With funeral homes growing busier burying the dead, pressure is building for Lightfoot to stop the carnage as other big cities with high Black populations fight similar battles.
As the nation’s third largest city, the battle became clearer in Chicago on April 6 when a bombshell report showed that Blacks had a higher death rate than whites and Latinos.
Of 98 COVID-19 deaths in Chicago as of April 5, 68 percent or 67 were Black, according to the report. Blacks also had the highest number of coronavirus cases at 1,824.
The report from the city’s public health agency said Blacks in Chicago accounted for 72% of deaths from COVID-19 in the city and 52 percent of positive tests for the coronavirus, despite making up only 30 percent of the city’s population.
“This new data offers a deeply concerning glimpse into the spread of COVID-19 and is a stark reminder of the deep-seated issues which have long created disparate health impacts in communities across Chicago,” Lightfoot said.
“While this data is extremely troubling, we are determined to lessen the impact of COVID-19 by engaging communities that have traditionally been overlooked and that have suffered disinvestment and neglect for generations.
“We know that our residents’ health is impacted by a number of factors, and we will also be taking a critical look at ways we can ensure that every Chicagoan has the opportunities and resources necessary to maximize their health and well-being.”
Statewide, Blacks in Illinois had the highest death rate and COVID-19 infection rate.
Some 129 Blacks, who died of the virus, made up 42 percent of Illinois’ 307 deaths, according to the Illinois Department of Health. Among coronavirus cases, 3,607 Blacks made up 29.4 percent of the Illinois’ 12,262 cases.
That percentage of Black cases is slightly higher than the 28 percent the Crusader cited last week, reporting ethnic demographics before other news outlets published any coronavirus data based on race. Last week’s Crusader story said Blacks had the second highest number of cases behind whites, which had 38 percent of 3,026 coronavirus cases in Illinois. Blacks gained attention in the media when they became the ethnic group with the highest number of cases and deaths.
On April 7, Pritzker said COVID-19 had taken an additional 73 lives in the past 24 hours. It was the largest, single day increase in deaths, so far, and pushed the number of casualties to 13,549.
Globally, there are over 1.4 million coronavirus cases and 81,200 deaths from COVID-19. The United States leads the world with nearly 400,000 cases, more than four times that of China, where the virus began.
The biggest concern is the high death rate among Blacks across the country.
In Louisiana–one of the states most devastated by the coronavirus–about 70 percent or 407 people who have died are Black. A third of Louisiana’s population is Black.
In Michigan, 40 percent or 338 out of 845 deaths from COVID-19 were Black.
Blacks are also being infected at high rates in New York’s Brooklyn borough.
Responding to demands for information based on race, New York City’s health department released preliminary data that shows 428 Blacks in the city have died from COVID-19. The group was second to Latinos who had led the city with 521 deaths. New York City has the largest Black population that any city in the country, with over 1.8 million people of color
Meanwhile, Chicago’s Black churches continue to lose members to COVID-19.
Last week, Archbishop Lucius Hall, founder and pastor of the First Church of Love and Faith, died from the disease. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said six members of the church died in the same week.
At Lightfoot’s press conference, Reverend Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim, announced that he lost several members of his church and family, including his eldest sister, Rhoda Jean Hatch, the family matriarch. She was 73 and had asthma.
The next day after Hatch’s announcement, Pastor Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church announced that Andrew Betts, the chairman of the deacon board at Greater St. John Bible Church, died of COVID-19 on April 5. He was 71 and had underlying health conditions.
“He was my hero,” his daughter, Renee Ruffin, told the Crusader. “He endured and overcame a lot of challenges. He was such a fighter.”
Blacks in Chicago and America have higher death rates because they historically have underlying health conditions that make them extremely vulnerable to the disaster.
Blacks have higher rates of chronic disease (including heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and smoking-related illnesses), and higher rates of death related to these chronic diseases in Chicago. These illnesses compromise individuals’ immune systems which become too weak to fight the disease.
COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system. As the lungs are filled with heavy fluid, patients have trouble breathing.
After traveling to cities or interacting with crowds, individuals are urged to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently recommended individuals wear non-N95 face masks outdoors after weeks of advising against it.