Black residents in Chicago make up 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths

Health policy professor says that while the Cook County statistics are disturbing and unsettling, they are 'not surprising'

(Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)

A disproportionate number of Black people in Cook County, Illinois are contracting the novel coronavirus and dying from the disease, as compared to other races.

Black people make up 23 percent of the county’s residents but an astounding 58 percent of COVID-19 deaths, reported WBEZ News. The situation is even starker in Chicago, where 61 of 86 COVID-19 deaths, or 70 percent, were Black people. Across the state of Illinois, things aren’t better. Black people are 14 percent of the population in Illinois, but 38 percent of the COVID-19 cases.

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“It’s disturbing and upsetting, but not surprising,” Dr. Linda Rae Murray, health policy professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told WBEZ News. “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.”

Most of the Black people who contracted COVID-19 and died— 81 percent— had underlying health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, and high blood pressure. Some also had respiratory problems.

Another thing many Black people have in common is that they are more apt to use public transportation, work jobs that they can’t do from home, or share the same house.

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – MARCH 15: Travelers arrive in the international terminal at O’Hare Airport amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“As we put on our health equity lens, we already know (that) before COVID was ever established that the health outcomes for various communities are already different,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “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.”

Patricia Frieson, 61, became the first person to die in Illinois from the coronavirus. Frieson, a Black woman, was a retired nurse. One week after she died on March 16, her sister, Wanda Bailey, 63, also died of COVID-19. Both women had hypertension or diabetes, according to WBEZ News.

Antonio Davis Jimenez, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Community Outreach Intervention Projects, says many of the people his organization serves have “multiple people living in a household.”

“You just have a lot of people living in a house,” Jimenez told WBEZ News. “And so it’s really difficult to stay inside and do this thing. In fact, there’s an incentive to want to go outside,” he added.

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Other states are starting to show similar statistics.

In Michigan, for example, Black people make up 12 percent of the population yet 40 percent of the COVID-19 deaths, according to data released last week from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Experts also worry about the Black population inside prisons across the nation.

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