By Erick Johnson
Blacks have died from COVID-19 more than any other ethnic group in Chicago, Cook County and the entire state of Illinois, according to data released from government health agencies.
About 528 Blacks in Illinois have died from the disease, making up nearly 37 percent of all 1,439 COVID-19 deaths in the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health on April 21.
In Cook County among the dead are 467 Blacks, making up 47 percent of all 986 COVID-19 deaths in Cook County, according to the county’s new COVID-19 dashboard. Launched on April 16, the Cook County Medical Examiner COVID-19 Dashboard and interactive Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) Map provides direct, transparent access to critical information about coronavirus deaths in the County for public health agencies, medical professionals, first responders, journalists, policymakers and residents.
The COVID-19 dashboard shows users which areas of the County are hardest hit by the pandemic as well as other demographic data gathered by the County’s Medical Examiner’s Office.
In Chicago, 301 Black deaths make up a staggering 56 percent of all deaths in the city, according to Chicago’s COVID-19 website. That is 64 percent of all Black COVID-19 deaths in Cook County and 57 percent of all Black COVID-19 deaths in Illinois.
The percentage of Black deaths in Chicago was dramatically higher, at 70 percent, three weeks ago when city leaders first realized that race played an important factor in addressing the rising death toll of COVID-19 victims.
The numbers reflect a disturbing climb as health officials continue to scramble to save thousands of Blacks who remain infected with COVID-19.
Many have underlying health conditions like diabetes and heart disease that make it harder for Blacks to survive the deadly disease.
Chicago’s Black clergy on Monday, April 20, held a vigil outside Mercy Hospital in Bronzeville, accusing Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city leaders of not doing enough to address the fatalities and the longstanding health problems of Black residents during the pandemic.
“Despite only being 29 percent of Chicago’s population, Black people are 70 percent of the deaths; and despite having the coronavirus, tell stories of not being believed and being sent home“ to die, said organizer and activist Jitu Brown.
That same day, Lightfoot announced the City’s Racial Equity Rapid Response Team. (RERRT) announced steps to address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic in many of the city’s Black neighborhoods.
Three communities have been identified for initial engagement, based on local COVID-19 data that indicated a need for action – Austin, Auburn Gresham, and South Shore.
The Racial Equity Rapid Response Team led by Candace Moore, the city’s first Chief Equity Officer, Dr. Sybil Madison, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Education and Human Services, and West Side United, will partner with three anchor community organizations.
Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, Austin Coming Together, and South Shore Works will work to develop hyperlocal, data-informed strategies to slow the spread of the COVID-19 and improve health outcomes among communities that have been most heavily impacted.
“We are all in this crisis together, but we haven’t experienced it in the same way,” said Lightfoot.
“In response to the shockingly disproportionate impact this disease has had on our communities, RERRT is working aggressively and in close collaboration with local leaders and partners to mount a public health response that addresses the specific and contextualized needs of our residents and families.
“While we continue to focus on the immediate challenges related to COVID-19, this crisis has also doubled-down our longer mission to fight poverty, end racial inequality, and ensure every Chicagoan has access to a bright future we all deserve.”
Organized around four pillars prioritized by the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team, the coordinating structure comprises a steering committee and working groups focused on Education, Prevention, Testing & Treatment, and Supportive Services.
Each is to include targeted ways to engage directly with residents in the impacted communities. Each leading community organization is also creating community-specific steering committees and working groups, which will galvanize current leadership for greater concentrated outreach toward the goal of slowing the further spread of COVID-19.
“The work of the newly formed Racial Equity Rapid Response team is central to West Side United’s mission which identifies structural racism and historical disinvestment in Black and brown communities as pillars of disparity and inequity.
“The immediate investments needed to address the COVID-19 mortality and infection rates in high-risk communities also warrant a long-term commitment that this initiative can deliver by building the capacity of communities and residents to arm themselves with the tools and resources to stay informed and healthy,” said Ayesha Jaco, executive director, West Side United.
Overall, 1,439 Illinois residents have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic as of April 15. Some 31,508 have been infected with the virus.
Whites in Illinois have the second highest death toll, with 527 COVID-19 deaths. In Cook County 368 whites have died from the disease, including 85 from Chicago, as of April 21.
Latinos remain the third highest group, with 146 dying from COVID-19, which is 10 percent of all deaths in Illinois. In Chicago, 98 Latinos have died from COVID-19, making up 18 percent of the city’s deaths.
As the health crisis drags on, Blacks remain the biggest concern with historic economic disparities and little access to healthcare.
Despite efforts statewide, Illinois data shows a disparity in testing where 19,728 Blacks have been tested as opposed to 34,645 white residents.