By Chris Tye and Chris Hacker

 

CHICAGO (CBS) — African-Americans make up a disproportionate number of the COVID-19 deaths in Chicago, new data shows.

Of the 118 total deaths from the disease in Chicago, 81 were black residents. But only 29 percent of the city’s population is black, revealing a deep disparity in who the virus is impacting — and killing — in Chicago.

“Those numbers take your breath away,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at her daily press conference Monday. “This is a call to action moment for all of us.”

A majority of those patients were people over the age of 70; most also suffered from another health condition, particularly diabetes and heart disease.

“No one should have where they live determine how long they live,” said Ayesha Jaco, executive director of the nonprofit West Side United.

But the data shows that’s exactly what’s happening for many in Chicago.

Chicago COVID-19 Deaths

Each zip code is colored according to the number of deaths. Each dot represents the approximate location of one death.

Source: Cook County Medical Examiner

The data exposes decades — even centuries — of disparities along racial lines.

Maureen R. Benjamins, PhD, is a senior research fellow at Chicago’s Mt. Sinai Hospital. She studies the forces that drive racial disparities in health and health care.

“I think its that big picture of what causes disparities — its not individual health choices or behaviors,” Benjamins said. “It’s these structural factors in society that go back to racist policies and discrimination.”

Those structural factors can include poor housing, increased pollution and distance from food and medical services in what are known as “food deserts,” Benjamins said. They can drive increased rates of diabetes and hypertension in black adults — the two most common secondary causes of death in Chicago’s COVID-19 fatalities, according to data analyzed by CBS 2.

And the disparities aren’t limited to Chicago. In a state that’s just 14 percent black overall, 30 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Illinois are in black residents. The share of deaths in Illinois is even higher: as many of 41 percent of the  people who died of COVID-19 in the state were Black.

Rev. Dr. Marshall Elijah Hatch, Sr., who spoke with Lightfoot at her briefing, said the health inequality between blacks and whites in Illinois run deep. Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he said “out of all the disparities caused by the inequities in our society, healthcare might be the most inhumane, and I think this pandemic of 2020 magnifies that truth.”