Data shows positivity rate dropping as city inches toward reopening
By Erick Johnson
After weeks of spreading, the coronavirus is slowing down in Black neighborhoods, according to an analysis of data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
For five weeks, the Crusader maintained a database of cases in 19 zip codes in predominantly Black neighborhoods or communities with large Black populations.
The Crusader found that the percentage of new, positive cases in 13 of the 19 zip codes have consistently dropped over a five-week period.
The data also shows that the total positivity rate for all 19 zip codes has been steadily declining since the week ending May 1. Prior to May 1, the overall positivity rate for the 19 zip codes was 45.8 percent. The following week, it fell to 26.8 percent. For the week ending May 15, the positivity rate fell again to 18.3 percent before it dropped to 13.6 percent last week.
The positivity rate measures the percentage of growth or decline in the number of those testing positive for coronavirus over a certain period of time. Governor J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot are using the metric to help decide when to move to the next phase in reopening Chicago and Illinois’ five geographic regions.
Medical experts believe that the spread of the virus is slowing down after many residents stayed at home and took precautions during the pandemic.
Last week, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the positivity rate in many parts of the city continues to decline. Using data from the IDPH, the Crusader found this to be true in the city’s Black neighborhoods.
Among the 13 Black neighborhoods with a declining positivity rate are Au- burn Gresham and South Shore—two predominantly Black neighborhoods that were among the hardest hit communities by the pandemic. Other Black neighborhoods where the positivity rate is declining include Austin, Bronzeville, Chatham, Hyde Park, Roseland, West Pullman, Englewood, West Englewood, Beverly, and Morgan Park.In the past two weeks, the positivity rate in West Garfield Park declined to 14.54 percent after reaching a high of 21.39 percent during the week ending May 8, where 522 residents tested positive for the virus.
In Auburn Gresham, the positivity rate, as of May 22, stood at 9.34 percent after three weeks of steady decline. For the week ending May 1, 36.5 percent of those tested had tested positive for the virus. For the week ending May 8, the positivity rate declined to 14 percent then fell by 11.3 percent in the week ending May 15.
As of May 22, the positivity rate in South Shore fell to 6.59 percent from a high of 38.3 percent for the week ending May 1. For the week ending May 8, the positivity rate dropped to 15.9 percent before it fell again to 12.4 percent the following week.
In Roseland and West Pullman—two hard-hit Black neighborhoods that share zip code 60628— the positivity rate for the week ending May 1 was 41.8 percent. After three weeks of dramatic drops, the positivity rate for the week ending May 22 stood at 9.13 percent.
The positivity rate in Chatham has fluctuated in recent weeks. The positivity rate was 36.5 percent for the week ending May 1. The following week, it was 7.91 percent before it increased to 15.9 for the week ending May 15. By May 22, the positivity rate in Chatham fell to 8.39 percent.
Meanwhile, testing continues to increase in some Black neighborhoods, while decreasing in others. The biggest increase occurred in the Chatham and Greater Grand Crossing neighborhoods. A new testing site that opened last week in the parking lot of the Studio Movie Grill helped increase the testing rate by nearly 65 percent. The previous week, testing in Chatham increased by just over 11 percent.
A total of 5,575 residents in Chatham and Greater Grand Crossing have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic struck Chicago in March.
Data show that testing declined in Austin, Woodlawn, Washington Park and West Englewood as the positivity rate fell in many Black neighborhoods.
In Auburn Gresham, testing increased by over 34 percent after political leaders complained that not enough was being done as the neighborhood had one of the highest COVID-19 rates in the city.
A Crusader analysis of IDPH data identified that for the week ending May 1, the testing rate in Auburn Gresham had increased to over 64 percent. but the following two weeks, the rate increased by just 26 percent or less. The total number of those tested in the neighborhood was 5,491 as of May 22.
In South Shore, a new testing site at 71st and Stony Island was operating on May 23. Two weeks earlier, a temporary, mobile testing facility operated out of the parking lot of a Walgreen store in Jeffrey Plaza.
Data show that COVID-19 testing in South Shore had been declining since May 1, when there was a nearly 41 percent jump in testing. By May 15, the testing rate had increased by just 26 percent before it climbed to over 28 percent last week.
To boost awareness of COVID-19 testing, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. was scheduled to get tested at noon on May 26 at Kennedy King College, 6301 S. Halsted St. Those plans were cancelled by 10:30 that morning. No explanation was given.
Meanwhile, Mayor Lightfoot, alongside the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), recently announced that Chicago is on track and ready to move to Phase Three of its reopening framework in June given the progress on several key health metrics.
The “Protecting Chicago” reopening framework lays out how Chicago plans to begin reopening after being closed for more than two months under the state’s stay at home order.
Lightfoot said the details for each phase were determined by economic and health data, as well as a combination of input from industry and labor working groups, health experts and the public.
She went on to say the city is predicting that in early June Chicago will be ready to transition from Phase Two (Stay at Home) to Phase Three (Cautiously Reopen), which will still require strict physical distancing, but would begin to allow for some industries to start reopening.
“The health and safety of residents have always been and will continue to
be our singular, North Star in dealing with this crisis,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “While our health metrics don’t allow us to transition to Phase Three just yet, their trajectory over these past few weeks suggests that Chicago will be prepared to make that transition in June.”