The COVID-19 virus is killing black residents in Cook County at disproportionately high rates, according to early data analyzed by WBEZ.
While black residents make up only 23% of the population in the county, they account for 58% of the COVID-19 deaths. And half of the deceased lived in Chicago, according to data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
As of Saturday, 107 of Cook County’s 183 deaths from COVID-19 were black. In Chicago, 61 of the 86 recorded deaths – or 70% – were black residents. Blacks make up 29% of Chicago’s population.
The majority of the black COVID-19 patients who died had underlying health conditions including respiratory problems and diabetes. Eighty-one percent of them had hypertension, or high blood pressure, diabetes or both.
As the virus continues to spread, the high mortality rate for black residents is alarming.
“It’s disturbing and upsetting, but not surprising,” said Linda Rae Murray, health policy professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “This is just a reflection of the facts that we already know about these pandemics. People who are vulnerable will die quicker and won’t have as many resources.”
It’s still early in the pandemic and health officials are assessing information on which groups of people are being affected, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Saturday. Ezike said she “would not be entirely surprised” if a disproportionate number of deaths were occuring in black communities.
“As we put on our health equity lenses, we already know [that] before COVID was ever established that the health outcomes for various communities are already different,” she said. “So if you know those disparities exist in terms of health outcomes, you can imagine that overlaying a new disease is only going to exacerbate whatever inequities already exist.”
Historically, Chicago’s black communities have been disproportionately affected by health-related issues including poverty, environmental pollution, segregation and limited access to medical care.
These conditions contribute to high rates of hypertension and diabetes. In Illinois, the rate of high blood pressure for black residents is around 48%.
And it's not just black America, either. It's actually even worse for Native Americans.
They hastily piled all the dumbbells and treadmills in the back of a gym to make room for 23 extra hospital beds. The beds aren’t needed yet, but on a reservation where residents suffer high rates of diseases that exist throughout Indian Country, the Lummi Tribal Health Clinic is taking every precaution to prepare for the deadly coronavirus.
Two thousand miles away at the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, where 11 people have tested positive for the virus as of Friday and one has died, Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said: “We’re preparing for the worst.” Health workers plan to move hospital beds into a nearby university and a job-training facility shuttered because of the pandemic. “This is the worst public health crisis we’ve had in a generation.”
At the Navajo Nation that crosses three western states, 321 people were infected as of Saturday, an increase of 51 cases in a single day with 13 fatalities, the most in Indian Country. Police started issuing citations to anyone who violates a stay-at-home order.
“This is a matter of life and death," President Jonathan Nez said in a statement, "especially for those who have underlying health issues. Before you consider going out for any reason, think of the well-being of your elders and your children. Be mindful that the numbers we are seeing are two to three days old due to the delay in test results for covid-19.”
The coronavirus is ravaging the United States, but experts say more than 5 million people who identify as American Indian and Alaskan Native are especially vulnerable.
“When you look at the health disparities in Indian Country — high rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, asthma and then you combine that with the overcrowded housing situation where you have a lot of people in homes with an elder population who may be exposed or carriers — this could be like a wildfire on a reservation and get out of control in a heartbeat,” said Kevin Allis, chief executive of the National Congress of American Indians.
“We could get wiped out,” Allis said.
The genocide is a feature, not a bug. And everything this regime is doing is making the death toll higher, especially among non-white Americans.