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Positivity rate in nine Black Chicago zip codes rise higher than city

Nine Chicago zip codes, which include predominantly Black neighborhoods or large Black populations, have positivity rates higher than the city, according to a Crusader analysis of data from the Chicago Department of Public Health.

The news comes as COVID-19 deaths among Blacks in Cook County increased slightly in November as the new Omicron variant renews concerns of a surge in cases in states across the country.

The positivity rate in Chicago is 3.6 percent, but the figure is higher in communities, including Ashburn, Austin, Auburn Gresham, Chatham, Pullman, Roseland, West Pullman, Beverly and Morgan Park.

In zip code 60633, which includes parts of Riverdale, the positivity rate was 8.2 percent on November 30—more than twice the city average. Another zip with a high positivity rate is 60617, which includes East Side, South Chicago, parts of South Shore, Avalon Park, Hegewisch and Pullman. Health data show that this zip code had a positivity rate of 5.1 percent.

Currently, zip codes 60628 (Pullman, Roseland, West Pullman) and 60629 (West Lawn, Chicago Lawn, Ashburn, Garfield Ridge) have positivity rates of 4.1 percent, according to the latest health data. The positivity rate is 3.9 percent in zip code 60624, which includes West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park.

These zip codes were among 16 zip codes on South and West sides that had positivity rates below two percent on November 8. Today, 16 zip codes in those regions have positivity rates above three percent.

Meanwhile, Cook County Medical Examiner data shows COVID- 19 deaths among Blacks in Cook County and Chicago slightly increased during the month of November. According to health data, a total of 70 Blacks in Cook County died last month of COVID-19, compared to 63 in October. Of the 70 Black COVID-19 deaths in November in Cook County, 40 occurred in Chicago. The same number of Blacks in Chicago died of COVID-19 in October.

Among other ethnic groups, Latinos in Cook County lost 52 residents in November, compared to 37 in October. Whites lost 142 residents to the disease in November, compared to 127 in October. Five Asians died last month of COVID- 19 compared to four the previous month. Overall, there were 259 COVID-19 deaths in Cook County in November, compared to 251 in October.

The youngest Black victim, who died of COVID-19 in November, was a 19-year-old Black man from the New City neighborhood. Other Black COVID-19 victims include a 33-year-old Black male from the Near West Side and a 36-year-old from the Grand Boulevard neighborhood in Bronzeville. In terms of age, half of the 70 Black COVID- 19 victims in Cook County in November were over 70 years old.

As indoor gatherings increase during the holiday seasons, medical experts and scientists say hospitalization rates in Illinois and many states are increasing among fully vaccinated residents who have not received booster shots.

“What we’re starting to see now is an uptick in hospitalizations among people who’ve been vaccinated, but not boosted,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, told NBC News on November 30. “It’s a significant proportion, but not the majority by any means.”

Meanwhile, the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe two weeks after it reportedly began in South Africa. Health officials said Tuesday that the Omicron variant was in Europe several days earlier than previously known. The Omicron variant is now the dominant variant in at least 20 countries, raising questions about whether the pandemic is about to surge once again.

The Omicron variant is not affecting the U.S., but the destructive and dominant Delta variant continue to create new COVID-19 cases throughout the country. Health experts say it is too early to tell how devastating the Omicron variant is compared to the Delta variant.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on November 29 that the global risk from the Omicron variant is “very high” based on the early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”

The new variant has renewed concerns for unvaccinated residents and the need for vaccinated residents to get booster shots. As the Omicron variant spreads in other countries and the positivity rates increase amid rising indoor gatherings, Mayor Lori Lightfoot released a statement.

“As a City, we are very engaged in the heightened discussions regarding the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, particularly with our federal partners. At this point, there are many questions, which scientists across the world and at the Chicago Department of Public Health, are actively working to address all while closely monitoring this strain. While that work continues, we must as a city, and importantly as individuals, continue to follow the public health guidance: get vaccinated, and if vaccinated, get your booster; wear a mask indoors and when you’re around other people; and if you are feeling sick, stay home to save lives. The unvaccinated remain the most at risk to themselves and others, so please get vaccinated as soon as possible. For more information go to www.chicago.gov/COVIDvax.”

On December 1, drugmaker Merck formally filed a request for emergency authorization for its COVID-19 pill, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) narrowly approved a day earlier.

Merck claims the pill cuts the number of hospitalizations and deaths in half. The pill is the first medication that treats COVID-19 cases; however, the FDA scientists said their review identified several potential risks, including toxicity to developing fetuses and birth defects that were identified in studies of the pill conducted in animals. Diarrhea is listed as a side effect to the pill.

The Omicron variant remains the biggest concern.

As a precaution, later this week, President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to implement stricter testing requirements for all travelers entering the United States, including returning Americans.

The measures aim to curb the spread of the potentially dangerous Omicron variant, according to three federal health officials. The measures would require everyone entering the country to be tested one day before boarding flights, regardless of their vaccination status or country of departure.

Administration officials are also considering a requirement that all travelers get retested within three to five days of arrival.

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