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A Call to Action’ to address Covid-19 in Black Chicago

By Tariqah Shakir-Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jul 9, 2020 - 1:40:52 PM

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CHICAGO—Staff and faculty from the University of Chicago gathered for a “call to action” conference to explore solutions in decreasing the number of Covid-related deaths in the Black community in the city.


Dr. Abdullah Hasan-Pratt stated, “No matter the circumstances I’m reminded on a daily basis that I’m a Black man. On some days this may mean trying to convince a patient that I’m actually a physician; with others it may mean the warm words of encouragement from a patient telling me how proud they are of my journey.” Dr. Hasan-Pratt is an emergency medical resident at the University of Chicago Medical Center and helped facilitate the gathering.

“We’ve witnessed the Covid pandemic that disproportionately took the lives of African Americans and unveiled the impact of systemic, racial health care disparities on our most vulnerable populations and yet, we are preparing for a second wave,” he said during the June 19 convening which marked the anniversary date enslaved Blacks in the U.S. were deemed free in 1865, known as Juneteenth. The gathering was themed, “Juneteenth: A Call to Action Holding Our Healthcare System Accountable.”

The number of Black deaths in Chicago from Covid-19 are still the highest compared to other racial groups. Out of 2,623 deaths Blacks make up 1,135 reports.

“We are calling upon our own institutional leadership to work with us who have walked these undeserved streets our whole lives with the goal of how to improve the health of our communities; work with us to find ways to convert this energy into valuing, organic, community outreach efforts to hiring more Black faculty and staff and more resources to aid in the development of long-lasting community efforts,” Dr. Hasan-Pratt continued.

Danielle Keys, a UIC adult emergency nurse, said that education is a part of developing the long-lasting efforts. “I think more education is needed. I think a lot of people, until they are actually hit with the virus personally, don’t recognize that it’s real. This is not a game, this is not a joke,” she said.

One of the big challenges when it comes to Black households, particularly low-income ones is social distancing. For households where someone is employed as an essential worker or does not have the option of working from home, or if there are multiple generations living in one abode, this can be difficult.

“It’s kind of hard to tell someone to social distance when there’s nine people living in a one-bedroom house. It’s kind of hard to tell someone to social distance when they have nowhere to go; it’s kind of hard to say ‘wash your hands’ when you don’t have $5 to go buy soap so we have to start at the root of the problem, and the root of the problem is we need to—like Dr. Pratt said—not give them fish, we need to teach them how to fish so that this can be a long-lasting effect,” explained Ms. Keys.

The UIC conference also explored other public safety areas of critical importance to the Black community.

Ujimaa Medics is one program teaching participants “how to fish” with training in emergency first response. Co-founders Amika Tendaji and Martine Caverl intend for participants—especially from Black communities with high rates of gun violence to get professional training via workshops. So far, over 1,000 participants have been trained in the over 100 workshops available. Five participants were previous gunshot victims. Training in proper hygiene, how to recognize symptoms of Covid-19 and other medical emergencies is also part of the program.

UIC medical student and graduate researcher Victoria Okuneye discussed the higher risk of contracting Covid-19 the incarcerated population faces.

“One of our researchers here in Chicago did a recent study here that was revolutionary, I believe—that showed the mass majority of the cases that we see here in Chicago are due directly to the cycling of people in and out of the jail systems, and that if we had of taken away that interactions of people just being booked—not even necessarily being guilty or innocent, but being booked we would have a dramatic reduction in the loss of lives that we’ve seen in the Black community,” she said.

The study, published June 8, found that Blacks make up 75 percent of Cook County’s jail population which accounts for 72 percent of the city’s Covid-19 related deaths. Eric Reinhart, lead author of the study said, “The Covid-19 pandemic is making clear that alternative mechanisms of criminal deterrence, such as citations, public service requirements, supervised release, etc., are not only ethical imperatives, but also sound public health policy in a globalized world vulnerable to rapidly spreading infectious diseases.”

The purpose of the gathering noted organizers, was to “bring the unified voices of the UChicago Medicine’s Black community together to present their grievances with a plan to bring about systematic changes for the Black community they serve.”

“On Juneteenth, we simultaneously are forced to deal with the reality that laws actually being enforced disproportionately harm the Black communities, from housing, to stand your ground, citizen arrest laws and even the inability to barbecue in a parking lot being Black,” continued Dr. Hasan-Pratt.

“This system has targeted and executed a level of hate for an amount of time unmatched in recent history so while we reflect on this reality that has clear roots in history, we must not allow this energy to fuel circular debates and negativity but rather learn from them and convert that energy into activity that will continue the healing process,” he said.