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Black neighborhoods healthier on two-year anniversary of pandemic

After a tough start to 2022, Black Chicago marked the two-year anniversary of the pandemic with low death rates and falling positivity rates, as life in the city continues to return to normal with warm weather ushering in the spring season.

The city positivity rate as of Tuesday, March 15, remained at .7 percent for the second consecutive week.

The percentage was even lower in 18 Black zip codes for another week while the positivity rate for two Black zip codes was higher than the city average but less than one percent.

There were a total of 10 deaths last week for all 20 Black zip codes, the lowest number since last June. There were no deaths last week in 12 Black zip codes, and six had just one death. Two Black zip codes had two deaths, the highest casualty of the group.

More businesses on the South and West sides are dropping their mask policy two weeks after the city and state dropped theirs.

In Chicago Public Schools, masks became optional for students as of Monday, March 14. However, CPS Chief Pedro Martinez strongly encouraged students in low vaccinated CPS schools to continue wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The warning came as Chicago marked the two-year anniversary of the pandemic, which on March 16, 2020, experienced its first COVID-19 death. That person was Patricia Frieson, a 61-year-old Black woman from Auburn Gresham, whose older sister, Wanda Bailey, 63, also died more than a week later of the disease.

In Chicago, a total of 7,508 people have died from COVID-19, including 3,207 Blacks and 2,268 Latinos.

Comprising 29 percent of Chicago’s population, Blacks disproportionally make up 42.2 percent of the city’s COVID-19 deaths. Sixteen out of 20 Black zip codes have COVID-19 overall death tolls in the triple digits.

“It’s been a long, challenging two years since COVID-19 first hit home here in Chicago,” said Mayor Lightfoot.

“Our health care and other front-line workers have been heroes, and I can’t imagine what the toll would have been without them. But we have lost too many lives, including Patricia Frieson and unfortunately thousands more.

“So, this is a time to remember and honor them, and also to recommit ourselves to tackling the health and racial disparities that made this pandemic so devastating, especially in our communities of color,” Lightfoot concluded.

In Cook County, 14,173 people lost their lives to COVID-19. Statewide, 33,139 died of COVID, including 6,124 Blacks and 4,619 Latinos.

Nationally more than one million people have died from the disease. Worldwide, 6,051,011 people have died from COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Hospital COVID-19 dashboard.

There are reports that the Omicron sub-variant, the Deltacron, has doubled in cases in some parts of the country, a sign that the pandemic may not be over. Lightfoot said too many Chicagoans remain unprotected, especially Black residents.

“Last December, we marked the one-year anniversary of vaccines arriving in Chicago, and they have been a game changer, saving thousands of lives,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH).

“But as Omicron showed us, this virus is unpredictable, and it is not done with us. COVID-19 will continue to be with us, and we can’t let up in our push for vaccination, and our commitment to fighting racial inequities. They were brought to light by the pandemic, but that’s been a focus of CDPH for decades, and we’re now doubling down on those efforts.”

CDPH continues to offer free, at-home vaccinations to everyone age five and older in Chicago.

Arwady said equity in vaccination continues to be a focus in minority neighborhoods, which have consistently had lower vaccination rates. While nearly 82 percent of Chicagoans age five and up have had at least one dose of the vaccine, for Black Chicagoans that number is just 61 percent.

After the pandemic began, the city created the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team (RERRT), which brought together community leaders, public health entities, city government, and health institutions to help craft Chicago’s equitable COVID-19 response strategies and put those strategies into action. The result was resources dedicated to the most highly impacted communities, which include many Black zip codes.

“Equity is not only part of the COVID-19 recovery strategy, equity is the strategy,” said Chief Equity Officer Candace Moore, who led the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team. “And as we continue to move forward, the work done with the RERRT continues to guide our work toward long-term systemic transformation, which will impact generations of residents across our city.”

CDPH also created Healthy Chicago Equity Zones as an extension of this racial and health equity work.

CDPH allocated $9.6 million from COVID-19 relief funding to establish these zones – six geographic areas covering the entire city led by regional and community organizations that are creating community-based stakeholder coalitions focused on targeted strategies to improve community and individual wellness for the long term.

The HCEZs are helping the city better address the health disparities that were further amplified during the pandemic.

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