CHICAGO — While health officials say Chicago is flattening the curve of COVID-19 infections, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said increased testing revealed the disease is more widespread among Latinos than previously thought Wednesday.
“With increased testing, improved reporting and the continued spread of this terrible virus we are seeing a surge in cases amongst our Latinx residents,” Lightfoot said.
The numbers show the stubborn racial challenge. In Chicago there are 26,611 cases of the novel coronavirus with 1096 deaths. Among those deaths 52 percent are African Americans, while 25 percent of deaths are in the Latino community.
Lightfoot said officials have been worried about an undercount of the virus’ impact on some communities, as just four weeks ago Latinos accounted for 14 percent of COVID-19 cases and 19 percent of deaths.
“Fast forward to today and those numbers have more than doubled,” Lightfoot said. “And unfortunately, those numbers are on the rise.”
Lightfoot said among the cases of COVID-19 for which ethnicity data is available, Latinos account for 37 percent of cases of COVID-19 in Chicago and 25 percent of related deaths.
Additionally, data shows the Illinois zip codes with the highest number of COVID-19 cases include Latino communities like Brighton Park, Cicero, West Lawn, Little Village and Belmont-Cragin. The percentage of individuals who test positive in Latino neighborhoods is much higher than average.
Experts say several factors could be contributing to the disparity, including a reluctance to get tested due to a lack of health insurance and limited resources being offered in Spanish. Multi-generational households are also more common among Latinos, making it possible for the disease to spread among more family members.
“These numbers are startling, and they call us to another moment of action and sense of urgency,” Lightfoot said. “We have to step up and answer this call to action.”
Lightfoot said the city’s Racial Equity Rapid Response Team, initially formed to address the virus’ disparate impact on African-American communities, will now focus on Latinx communities as well. This work will include community town halls, outreach efforts and testing.
Community activists are also calling for emergency action to protect seniors after COVID-19 outbreaks continue to be reported at nursing homes across the state.
A Cook County judge ordered the Illinois Department of Public Health to inspect a Cicero nursing home where more than 164 residents and 41 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 Tuesday.
In Chicago and across the country, the vast majority of coronavirus-related deaths occur in individuals who are 60 years of age or older. More than 40 percent of coronavirus related deaths in Illinois have been at nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
On a broader scale, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said evidence suggests the city is “flattening the curve” of infection rates, but the number is not yet coming down. She said they expect the city to hit a peak of cases in May.
“Less than two months ago we were seeing cases double every two days, now they’re doubling every 14 days,” Arwady said, describing it as “major progress but still not at the peak.”