By Craig Wall and Sarah Schulte, ABC7 News
More than half of the COVID-19 cases in the city of Chicago are African Americans, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city health officials announced Monday.
According to data from the city, African Americans compose 30 percent of the population, but make up 52 percent of the city’s COVID-19 cases. African Americans also make up 72 percent of the city’s deaths from COVID-19.
“This is a call to action moment for all of us,” Mayor Lightfoot said. “When we talk about equity and inclusion, they are not just nice notions. They are an imperative that we must embrace as a city.”
“The death rate right now in the cases that have been reported for non-Latinx deaths in Chicago is seven times the death rate as its for white non-Latinx,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, director of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Reverend Marshall Hatch reflected on the impact of the coronavirus on his own family and his church family in just the last week.
“Well, we had actually four deaths last week and one of them was my sister, passed on Saturday, my eldest sister,” he said.
Rhoda Jean Hatch, the family matriarch, was 73 and had asthma. She had been a longtime organist in her father and brother’s churches.
“Seventy-two percent of our deaths here in Chicago residents have been in black Chicagoans, though, again, black Chicagoans just make up 30 percent of the city’s population,” Dr. Arwady said.
Mayor Lightfoot revealed details for how the city plans to address the inequality and assist vulnerable populations. The city has issued an order demanding healthcare providers give the city demographics data on all coronavirus patients.
“Our challenge right now is to immediately address this issue,” Lightfoot said. “We can and we will coordinate a rapid, community-based and community-driven response to what we are seeing.”
The mayor also announced the formation of a racial equality rapid response team of public health experts and community activists in partnership with West Side United. The team will be a hyperlocal effort to connect vulnerable people with services.
HIGHER INFECTION, DEATH RATE IN AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY LINKED TO SYSTEMIC ISSUES
There are many factors contributing to the high number of COVID-19 cases in the African American community. At Lawndale Christian Health Center on the West Side, nurse Tash Steverson said the phones have been ringing off the hook.
“A lot of people are calling because they have experienced the symptoms of this, or they know a family member and are concerned about their exposure,” Steverson said.
For many, the skyrocketing death rate is not shocking given systemic complications that have been around in Black communities for decades.
“If you have communities who have lack of access to health, lack of access to food, to good earning jobs, to employment, we should not be surprised,” said Father Michael Pfleger.
Black residents also suffer from a higher rate of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, underlying health issues that appear to make the novel coronavirus more deadly.
Pastor Phil Jackson said the COVID-19 numbers should be a wake-up call for a community that he said has not taken the virus seriously enough, especially some young people who are not social distancing.
“It’s as if there is an illusion that it is for white folks or older people, that was a rumor in the neighborhood,” Jackson said.
Bishop Robert Skinner, Jr.’s family said the South Side pastor brushed off his symptoms as a simple cold. His sister finally convinced her brother to go to the hospital, but it proved to be too late.
To save lives, pastors on the South Side and West Sides are urging African Americans to be aggressive in their response to the pandemic: stay home, wear masks and social distance.
After issuing a PSA telling people not to get their hair done during the stay at home order, this weekend the mayor got her hair cut.
She defended the decision, and said the stylist wore gloves and a mask.
“I’m the public face of the city, I’m on national media, and I’m out in the public eye,” she said, “and I’m, you know, I take my personal hygiene very seriously and, as I said, I felt I needed to have a haircut.”
“Well, like, I can’t speak to the situation of the mayor’s haircut but I will say that I have not had a haircut since before the stay-at-home rule was put in place,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “I actually feel like I’m getting a little shaggy. I’m gonna turn into a hippie at some point here.”
The Illinois Department of Public Health also released demographic information Sunday showing the impact on African-Americans.
“We know all too well that there are general disparities in health outcomes that play along these racial lines and the same may be true for this virus,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “We have worked to ensure that all of our communities can access healthcare they need as COVID-19 spreads.”
Gov. Pritzker said it represents a large problem.
“So, we already started out with an unequal system of health care for people,” Pritzker said. “And then it gets massively exacerbated when you bring on something like COVID-19, which clearly requires an enormous amount of health care provision. So I’m deeply concerned about this. I’ve seen these stats.”
COVID-19 Deaths in Illinois By Race / Ethnicity
Alderman Pat Dowell is hosting a virtual town hall to try to bring awareness to communities of color. The virtual town hall will take place at 4 p.m.
The phone number to join the meeting is 312-626-6799, the meeting ID is 469 420 712 and the password is 089318.
This article originally appeared on ABC7 News.