Chicago coronavirus: Some communities where essential workers live being hit hard by COVID-19 infections and deaths

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Throughout the pandemic, millions of essential workers continue to work outside their homes, putting them at a higher risk of exposure to the virus. Minorities make up a large percentage of these workers. Their communities are being hit hard by infections and deaths from the coronavirus.

Critical workers stock our grocery shelves, deliver our mail and take care of the elderly. In many cases essential workers live below the poverty line. COVID-19 has made their jobs more dangerous. Here in Chicago, many essential workers live in communities of color, some of which are coronavirus hot spots.

VonKisha Adams drives daily from her North Lawndale home to her overnight shift at a CTA maintenance garage on the city's south side. She worries about being exposed to COVID-19 and then bringing it home to her two young children.

"Because of my shift. There's one before me, we don't know what each other do outside of work, you know. I don't know who you hang out with. I don't know who you have in your house. You know those types of concerns...being aware of the doors or touching the microwave. Just little things like that," Adams told the I-Team.

"We see a lot of that people coming from grocery stores, factories, other businesses that are considered essential but difficult for them to stay home. They have to be there physically, the manual labor has to be there. So we are seeing patients that have gotten infected in their workplace," said Dr. Jaime Moreno, the medical director of Mount Sinai's emergency department.

Researchers at the University of Chicago's Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation are studying the impact of COVID-19 on minority communities using what is called an HDI, human development index, which looks at education, income and life expectancy.

"We found that communities such as Auburn Gresham, and North Lawndale, which have lower HDI values also reported relatively high cases COVID cases, and COVID related deaths in comparison to other communities in the city. So, these essential workers face higher infection risk in performing their day to day jobs. And this is one of many potential reasons why COVID cases may be higher in these low HDI communities," said Suraj "Neil" Sheth, MD-PhD candidate at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and doctoral fellow at the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation.

Data provided by Safegraph and analyzed by the ABC 7 I-Team reveals across Chicago in April, an average of about 9% of people were still leaving their homes to go to work locations, but in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods, that number was nearly 50% higher.

"We don't really have the opportunity to shelter in place like most. We are essential workers. We are the nurses. We are the grocery store attendants, you know we are the people taking care of the old people and the old folks home and the senior living situations," said Tanya Lozano, Founder and CEO of Healthy Hood Chicago.

"The best preparation for a crisis like this is working to improve local human development across communities within cities. So, that building resilience across communities can prepare us for the next crisis and the next pandemic and build a more inclusive community overall," said Sheth.
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