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Pushing to get Black communities in Chicago what they need

By Tariqah Shakir-Muhammad Staff Writer @Piercingstar19 | Last updated: Apr 21, 2020 - 1:36:35 AM

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Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Janice Jackson, left, and Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, along with elected and health officials, speak to reporters after the governor announced closures of public and private schools statewide due to COVID-19, March 13. Photo: AP/Wide World Photos

—Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city officials are slowly making progress in slowing the spread of Covid-19 with social distancing and stay-at-home orders in effect across the city. However, the biggest problem is slowing it in Black communities which will require more than a one-size-fits-all approach. 

“We have to understand the full magnitude of the impact of this virus on our city so as we started to see these numbers we took a couple of steps; number one, we mandated that all providers who are doing testing provide demographic information,” the mayor announced April 15.

“We were seeing about a quarter of the providers telling us that they were testing, telling us the test results but not including the race and ethnicity information which we knew was critically important,” she said. 

In response Mayor Lightfoot and the Chicago Department of Public Health issued a health order that required hospitals to share demographic data about Covid-19 cases and deaths. 

As of April 17, statistics now show Blacks make up 3,661 cases and 253 deaths due to Covid-19. 

The mayor also talked about what is being done to assist essential workers and those in need of food and shelter. Essential workers such as Chicago Transit Authority drivers are only dispatched in buses with driver shields that partially protect operators from respiratory droplets. Passengers are now directed to board and exit from the rear doors.

A protest at Cook County Jail April 15 called for the release of inmates in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak in Chicago’s Black communities. Photo: Haroon Rajaee

Chicago Public Schools will now remain open Monday – Friday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to provide breakfast and lunch to any child under 18. The Greater Chicago Food Depository now allows those suffering from job losses due to Covid-19 to quality for SNAP (also known as food stamps) benefits which can be used to purchase groceries from local stores.

The mayor said a partnership is in place with A Safe Haven Foundation, Rush University Medical Center and Heartland Alliance to open a 100-bed isolation facility to provide for homeless individuals.

“We’re making sure that we’re reaching out to these communities, we’re looking at the areas where there’s a higher concentration of deaths, highest concentrations of infections and we’ve formed a racial equity rapid response team right away,” the mayor said.

“That is, taking a model of kind of community-based medicine that has been effective in a particular area in the city and expanding that model to include public health folks, people on the ground, in neighborhoods—everything from the pastors, the block clubs—we’ve got street intervention workers who normally are working on stopping violence, we’ve now enlisted them in this effort.”

The mayor announced that with West Side United and her Chicago racial equity rapid response teams they will “work to reach vulnerable populations in the communities most impacted by Covid-19.”

Alderwoman Leslie Hairston of the 5th Ward in Chicago which is predominantly Black, told The Final Call that officials are doing what they can on a day-to-day basis to push for testing in Black communities.

“Currently, we are trying to get something established with the University of Chicago, they are going to expand their testing site and that’s within the last 24 hours; this is moving every day, the numbers are changing so we are changing with them. And as information becomes available, then we figure out how we can plug it in for the public.”

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office reported April 17 that 22 people have died from the coronavirus in the South Shore area and near Hyde Park.

“Understanding that there is systemic discrimination over the decades in the Black communities; we understand that that’s underlined but [we’re] looking at what we can do now to make sure that we don’t lose more of our people,” Ald. Hairston continued.

The University of Chicago announced April 16 that their health system will expand testing for up to 1,000 symptomatic people each day, a dramatic increase from the 200-daily testing.

Patients who show symptoms of flu-like illness can directly contact University of Chicago’s UChicago Medicine to request appointments. Some tests have been reserved for community partners, health care workers, emergency room patients and hospitalized inpatients. Curbside testing is also in effect.

Outpatient clinics in Hyde Park and Harvey, Ill. are also available for patients with Covid-19 but do not require hospitalization via appointment.

“I think that they were going in the right direction in terms of getting the Black community’s trust. There was a whole week worth of campaigns where they got some of us doctors, and they talked to athletes and everybody in the wake of finding out that there has been disproportionate amount of African Americans with Covid,” said Dr. Hassan Abdullah-Pratt, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Chicago.

He said city officials must work with those on the frontline to make sure Black communities get exactly what they need.

“I think that that has to be done in conjunction with physicians who are on the front line who have faces that the community trusts. I think that has to couple with a more specific, directional message and I think that specific, directional message would be what I would aspire for us as a community to receive and to practice if the government and leaders won’t do it,” said Dr. Abdullah-Pratt. 

Black communities should know who is giving the guidelines in preventing infection, maintaining underlying health conditions and dealing with exposure to Covid-19 and those guidelines should be specific to their needs, he said.