COVID-19 and racism: Illinois is fighting 2 public health crises at same time, Dr. Ngozi Ezike says

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Demonstrators across the country, including in the Chicago area, have been marching for justice. The call for change is coming during a deadly pandemic when Illinois health officials are encouraging everyone to wear face coverings and social distance.

"I want people to be engaged but after the protesting we need to think about testing, testing for covid," said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Illinois is opening its community-based testing sites to anyone who wants to get tested for COVID-19. The testing is free.

RELATED: 11 Illinois COVID-19 testing sites now open to all

Dr. Ezike is confronting what she describes as two public health crises: COVID-19 and racism. She said they both disproportionately impact people of color.

"Some of the effects of racism whether structural or institutional do play into people's health. We absolutely know that. We talk about that with infant mortality, with regards to maternal mortality," she said.

As a black woman, Dr. Ezike said she's coping with a wide range of emotions about what's happening in this country following the killing of George Floyd. She has too many personal stories of racism to share.

"I won't say it is daily, but on the regular and it is something I feel like you almost kind of expect," she said.

Dr. Ezike said now people are taking those experiences seriously.

"This is the first time I'm getting supportive texts from friends saying that I understand you as a mother of a black boy, I know how that may be striking you and I'm sensitive to that," she said. "I have never gotten those texts before."
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