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Experts examine virus’ disproportionate impact on Black communities

Capitol News Illinois

While African-Americans make up just less than 15 percent of Illinois’ population, they account for approximately 43 percent of the state’s COVID-19 fatalities and 28 percent of its confirmed cases, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

In a virtual town hall meeting on the issue earlier this week, state public health and African-American community leaders agreed that COVID-19 is not creating, but is laying bare longstanding public health disparities along racial lines.

“COVID-19 is putting these long-lasting inequities on display,” said Congresswoman Robin Kelly, a Democrat who represents Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District in the south suburbs of Chicago and serves as the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust chair. “The adage is true – when they get a cold, we get pneumonia.”

IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said a number of factors – such as preexisting conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which are more prevalent in Black communities – are contributing to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19, making the “horrific” statistics “not totally unexpected.”

Ezike and various leaders also said African-Americans often live in more crowded, multigenerational homes, and many still must work in public-facing positions because they are essential yet low-wage workers who cannot afford to take time off.

“We believe that these disparities, or these differences, are the result of injustices, things like redlining (excluding certain neighborhoods from access to financial services), economic disinvestment, less access to health care or health insurance, food insecurity, the list goes on,” Dr. Kiran Joshi, co-director of the Cook County Department of Public Health, said in the virtual town hall.

While Joshi said there is an “increasing understanding” in public health and government that the underlying reason for such disparities is “structural racism,” he noted, “No single local public health department or health care organization or elected official could do this on their own.”

For leaders throughout African-American communities statewide, current efforts are focusing on local community outreach with trusted organizations, a call for greater testing and data collection, and a focus on promoting available state and local resources.

On Friday, April 10, Gov. JB Pritzker announced plans for greater testing and available alternative housing in Black communities as well.

Coronavirus Cases And Deaths

Gov. JB Pritzker said Sunday, April 12, there are signs the COVID-19 outbreak is starting to level off, but he urged people to continue practicing social distancing to control the virus’ spread.

Speaking during an abbreviated Easter Sunday daily briefing in Chicago, Pritzker said the state is now conducting more testing than ever but that the percentage of tests coming back positive has remained almost exactly the same for the past two weeks, while the number of daily deaths appears to be dropping.

Pritzker said there had been 1,672 new confirmed cases reported of COVID-19 over the previous 24 hours, the highest daily total in Illinois so far in the pandemic, but he said that was largely due to increased testing. He also reported 43 deaths from the disease, the lowest daily total in the past six days.

“I pray as we move forward that these trends continue,” he said. “And if they do, it will be because of all of you, adhering to our stay-at-home order. Doctors and experts confirm the fact that, Illinois, having been the second state to announce a stay-at-home order, now seems to be reaching a peaking terminal term and our hopes have been coming to fruition.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported that 7,956 COVID-19 tests had been conducted over the previous 24 hours, the highest daily number so far, but still short of the stated goal of 10,000 tests per day.

There have now been more than 100,000 tests performed in Illinois, with a total of 20,852 confirmed cases and 720 fatalities.

Pritzker cautioned, however, that it was still too early to say whether the outbreak had peaked.

Stay-At-Home Order

Responding to questions from reporters, Gov. JB Pritzker on Sunday, April 12, said the stay-at-home order will remain in place until there is a significant drop in the number of active cases and hospitalizations. Even then, he said, the state will need to be cautious about returning to normal activity. The current order is through April 30.

“You still will only have had a certain percentage, a relatively low percentage in my opinion, maybe less than 20 percent of the public will have been exposed to COVID-19, will have had it and recovered from it. So you wouldn’t have heard immunity at that point,” he said. “So the question is how do you operate society when we begin to bring down the level of infection and make sure that people are able to begin to go back to work in various industries?”

“So I’m talking to industry leaders about that. I’m talking to economists about that,” he said. “I’m also very importantly listening to the scientists and the doctors to make sure that we do this right because what we don’t want … is to begin to open things up, and then have a big spike in infections, and you know unfortunately all the spikes that come with that including a spike of deaths. So we want to make sure we’re not doing that while we’re also looking at how we can get people back to work.”

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