By Erick Johnson
North Chicago and Waukegan have large Black populations. Both cities have some of the highest COVID-19 cases in Lake County. But few know how many have died from the disease.
The Crusader has learned that neither the Lake County Coroner’s Office nor the Lake County Health Department is providing that information, saying their data system doesn’t allow them to do so. Several requests for important information under the Freedom of Information Act have resulted in a fruitless search during the coronavirus pandemic.
North Chicago and Waukegan are respectively located 34 and 42 miles from Chicago. According to the U.S. Census, Black residents make up 25.5 percent or 7,043 of North Chicago’s population of 29,615.
State health data show that North Chicago has had a total of 590 residents in two zip codes test positive for COVID-19. In zip code 60088, where many whites live close to the shores of Lake Michigan, 45 people have tested positive for the virus.
Zip code 60064 is where most of the city’s Black residents live, according to data from the U.S. Postal Service. Here in North Chicago’s inner city, there are 545 COVID-19 cases, which is 12 times higher than their counterparts across town in zip code 60088. The number of those who died from the disease remains a mystery.Further north is the city of Waukegan. According to the U.S. Census, Blacks make up over 17 percent or 14,633 of the city’s population of 86,075. In zip code 60085, where most of the city’s Black residents live, 2,145 people have tested positive during the outbreak. That’s 48 times higher than the number of cases in the city’s other zip code, which it shares with North Chicago. Here, with just 45 cases, the numbers are likely smaller for each city in this shared zip code.
Like North Chicago, the number of COVID-19 deaths in Waukegan remains unknown.
For two weeks, the Crusader spoke to several officials in Lake County, the seat of North Chicago and Waukegan. The Crusader also sent two FOIA requests to the Lake County Coroner’s Office. FOIA Officer Alexandra Reynoso responded with a letter that said the office does not have a search system that matches the information requested.
She referred the Crusader to Lake County Coroner Howard Cooper, who said his office doesn’t have data on COVID-19 victims because they are natural deaths. He said the Lake County Health Department should “definitely” have that information.
It did not.
When the Crusader sent a FOIA request for information on COVID-19 victims by city, race and zip code, FOIA Officer Lisa Kroeger said the health department doesn’t have that specific information. When the Crusader emailed another FOIA request for deaths based on the zip code, Kroeger provided a link to the Lake County Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboard, which doesn’t list deaths by race or zip code. The dashboard reports the total numbers of COVID-19 deaths in the county, along with cases by zip code, which also can be found on the state’s COVID-19 website.
Meanwhile, the death toll has slowed down as the positivity rate has declined in predominately Black cities or towns with large Black populations outside Chicago.
Twenty-nine people have died from the disease in Oak Lawn and 658 have been infected during the outbreak.
In Chicago Heights, 22 people died from the COVID-19 virus and 797 have been infected. In Country Club Hills, 18 people have died and 389 have been infected with the virus.