Chicago coronavirus: Why the COVID-19 pandemic is deepening a racial divide in Chicago area communities

ByChuck Goudie, Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Ross Weidner, Jonathan Fagg and Adriana Aguilar WLS logo
Friday, May 22, 2020
Why the pandemic is deepening a racial divide in Chicago area communities
African American and Latinx communities in Chicago hit harder by COVID-19 than other neighborhoods.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- COVID-19 may be colorblind, but its impact is not. The virus is disproportionately killing more African Americans and Latinx. Inadequate medical care, access to testing and underlying health conditions are some of the explanations. Members of both communities say COVID should be a call to action to bridge the racial divide now.

Yesi Guerrero lost her best friend, Eli Solano, last month due to complications from the coronavirus.

"Unfortunately I wasn't able to see her because she coded when we got there," Yesi Guerrero told the I-Team.

She was just 26 years old and recently delivered her first child.

"The fact that she couldn't even hold her baby because of the virus was very hard for us," said Guerrero. "I didn't want to risk us going and exposing the virus to other people. So we had to stay home and miss her funeral."

Guerrero's husband, mother and father, all essential workers, were sickened by the virus. She tested negative but was symptomatic, hospitalized and then told to isolate at her Cicero home. Not an easy task with three generations living under one roof.

"It's really hard, especially when it's a house that you know you do everything together. You eat together, you watch TV together. And once we got this virus it was like, all right, we want everyone to be safe. Everyone stay in your room," said Guerrero.

Cicero has more than 2,200 cases. Chicago's Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods are also virus hot spots.

The main Little Village Zip Code, 60623, is almost two-thirds Latinx and has more confirmed COVID cases than any other in the state. Zip code 60608, which covers parts of Pilsen, ranks 7th.

"Just the lack of resources the lack of education that is out there for them. We're seeing very sick patients coming in, and sometimes patients that are coming in too late," said Dr. Jaime Moreno, the medical director of the emergency department at Mount Sinai Hospital.

"COVID-19 isn't the killer of our community, inequality is," said Tanya Lozano, Founder and CEO of Healthy Hood Chicago in Pilsen. "We have these five diseases which is heart disease, diabetes, asthma, AIDS and cancer. So now the virus is you know really attacking us on another level."

Lincoln United Methodist Church in Pilsen has been hit hard by the pandemic. Several members have died and many others infected.

"This virus, this pandemic has gone through the Latino community like wildfire. We die 20 years sooner than more affluent people of other zip codes," said Emma Lozano, the pastor of Lincoln United Methodist Church. "We're trying to bring the testing to our communities."

Volunteers are putting together care packages and then delivering them to those in need.

"We currently have 800 warm meals a week and 250 care packages to families each week," said Oswaldo Becerra, volunteer coordinator for We Got This.

"When we first started the numbers around the African American community were really quite startling, both in terms of cases and in particular mortality rates," said Candace Moore, the Chief Equity Officer for the City of Chicago.

When it quickly became apparent more African Americans were dying from the virus than from any other group, Chicago set up the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team.

"When it comes to mortality rates, as of right now we are still seeing that disproportionality amongst the African American community. It has improved over time, I think at one point, at the high, it was something pretty significant like 75%," said Moore.

According to data from the Cook County Medical Examiner, the South Shore Zip Code of 60649 has more COVID-connected deaths than any other zip code in the county. More than 90% of its residents are black, according to census records.

COVID-19 took the matriarch of Marshall Hatch's family.

"I called her Aunt Rhoda and she was the holder of sacred stories. We certainly miss her," said Hatch, a member of West Side United's executive leadership council.

Many told us the silver lining to this pandemic is the collaborative effort aimed at bridging the racial inequity gap.

"I think we should use COVID really as a call to action," said Hatch.

"The bright spot that could really come out of this is that we've got this momentum that started up, it started in a crisis, but now we need to keep it going," said Dr. Nimmi Rajagopal, the associate chair of family and community medicine at Cook County Health.

"I think the lesson we need to learn is that we cannot discriminate because this disease does not discriminate. And we need to provide the resources for everyone," said Pastor Lozano.