A gentleman wearing personal protective gear in the Homan Square neighborhood on April 5, 2020 | Photo by Darius Griffin [The TRiiBE]

This story is published on thetriibe.com in partnership with Free Spirit Media’s experimental “learning newsroom” program, The Real Chi.

Black Chicagoans are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for 72% of the city’s death toll despite making up only 30% of the city’s population.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced this stark statistic Monday at an afternoon press conference.

As of Sunday (April 5), the racial breakdown of COVID-19 cases in Chicago included 1,824 Black residents, 847 white residents, 478 Hispanic or Latinx residents and 126 Asian residents. As of Monday, (April 6), there are 12,262 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Illinois and 307 deaths.

Chronic underlying conditions such as diabetes and hypertension are driving factors in the higher baseline rates of COVID-19 among Black communities, according to Chicago health officials.

According to a press release, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) is working to get more COVID-19 testing in Black and brown communities. So far, data shows that areas with the most cases by zip code include the far South Side and Southeast Side (zip codes 60617, 60619, 60620 and 60628) and one area on the far North Side (zip code 60645). 

To combat the disparity existing in regards to the novel coronavirus, Mayor Lightfoot announced a new hyperlocal outreach initiative in at-risk West and South Side communities. The initiative is being done in partnership with West Side United, a nonprofit organization tasked with improving healthcare on the West Side by addressing economic and educational inequality. 

The initiative will see the creation of a racial equity rapid response team of health experts and local activists that will work on communicating the risks on COVID-19 and will connect residents to the resources they need. The response team will focus on reaching residents over 50 and who have underlying health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. 

“This will be a hyper-local tactical effort to reach vulnerable people, educate them about options where necessary and connect them with services to help fight the spread of this disease,” the mayor said at a press conference.

City inspectors will also be sent to at-risk communities to monitor social distancing efforts in CTA buses and grocery stores after recent reports from the South Side indicated that some stores have no social distancing efforts in place. 

Mayor Lightfoot said the city will close down stores if they do not comply with social distancing guidelines. 

The initiative will also work on acquiring complete and accurate demographic data from hospitals that are testing for COVID-19. To get the data, Mayor Lightfoot and CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady have issued the COVID Patient Data Health Order. It mandates that hospitals track the race and ethnicity of every patient who is administered a  COVID-19 test. That data must then be reported to CDPH. 

“This is not negotiable. We must understand the magnitude of the impact of this virus on all of our communities,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “It is up to the healthcare providers who are on the front lines not to skip over the boxes that provide us with the demographic information.”

During the press conference, The TRiiBE asked what Black Chicagoans should do if they don’t have the luxury to quarantine or isolate themselves if they live in a home or setting with multiple people. 

Arwady said every hospital in Chicago has a discharge coordinator who is asking each patient questions about their living situations. If patients are homeless or returning to a setting with multiple people or vulnerable people, Arwady said they have the option to go to a hotel to wait for test results — or, if tested positive for COVID-19, they can stay at the hotel throughout the time of infection. Hospital staff will advise patients on which hotels are available to patients.