Chicago mayor: Virus deaths in black community ‘devastating’

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announces the "We Are Not Playing" campaign during a press conference at Soldier Field, Monday morning, April 6, 2020, in Chicago. The city is launching a health campaign focused on the city's black and brown communities, following a media report highlighting the disproportionate number of black residents among those who have died of COVID-19 complications in the city. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
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Chicago is launching a health campaign focused on the city’s black and brown communities, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday following a media report highlighting the disproportionate number of black residents among those who have died of COVID-19 complications in the city.

Lightfoot called WBEZ’s finding that 70% of recorded deaths due to the coronavirus in the city were black residents “devastating.” The radio station’s report said black residents make up 29% of the city’s population.

Lightfoot promised more detail on the city’s plan at an afternoon press conference but said it involves faith leaders, elected officials, neighborhood organizations and health care providers.

“It’s devastating to see those numbers,” Lightfoot said. “And knowing they’re not just numbers, they’ve lives. There’s families and communities that have been shattered.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Chicago is among cities with large black populations that are considered hot spots for the coronavirus, including New York, Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans. Figures released Monday by Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services showed African Americans, who make up 14% of the state population, make up about 33% of cases statewide and 41% of deaths.

Detroit, which is about 80% black, has recorded 5,032 confirmed cases with 196 people dead from complications due to the COVID-19 virus.

Coronavirus data specific to black residents was not available from the city, but Detroit and its surrounding suburbs account for about 80% of the state’s confirmed cases.

White residents account for about 23% of the confirmed cases statewide, and 28% of the deaths, according to the Michigan health officials. The race of about 38% of the confirmed cases and 26% of the deaths in Michigan were not known.

“Part of what we’re seeing in Detroit is that there’s such a high number of individuals who have those underlying conditions, who have the diabetes and the heart disease, who may have obesity,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive who previously led Detroit’s health department, said earlier this month.

Lightfoot noted that unequal access to health care in Chicago’s black and brown communities has persisted for decades. Some medical conditions including diabetes and heart disease also remain more prevalent among black adults in the U.S.

Lightfoot said Chicago can’t “erase decades of health disparities in a few days or a week.”

“But we have to impress upon people in these communities that there are things that they can do, there are tools at their disposal that they can do to help themselves,” she said.