With more than 250K COVID-19 deaths nationwide, heartbreak in Chicago's hardest hit hot spot

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As the country marks the staggering milestone of 250,000 dead from COVID-19, "A Quarter Million: America's Loss" is apparent on the streets of the Chicago neighborhoods torn apart by this virus.

More than 3,000 Chicagoans have lost their lives to COVID-19. The I-Team followed the data to Little Village and North Lawndale and found blocks-long testing lines, pervasive illness and unthinkable loss.

"It breaks our heart, mostly because of the kids," said Sarai Camarillo. She told the I-Team that her children loved her stepfather, Margarito Lucero Mendoza. He worked two restaurant jobs until the pandemic closed them down and he took a manufacturing job to make ends meet.

In May, he got sick and died from COVID-19 and the virus spread through his family. When she tested positive, Camarillo sent her kids to live with her sister for two months to stay safe.

"It's horrible," Camarillo told the I-Team. "My husband and I would just go see them through the window and it was heartbreaking."

Her mom, Candelaria Tapia, now pleads with people to learn from her family's loss, and "take things seriously" because "if people take it lightly they're going to feel the pain of losing a loved one."

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The part of Chicago that's been hardest hti by COVID-19 is zip code 60623, which encompasses Little Village and North Lawndale.

60623 is the Chicago zip code where more people have died from COVID-19 than any other. At least 170 so far have died in the zip code spanning North Lawndale and Little Village on Chicago's West Side.

In all, 3287 people have died in Chicago. In Illinois, 11,178. And nationwide, the more than a quarter million dead is enough people to fill every seat in Soldier Field four times.

Put another way, the 250,000 American lives lost from this pandemic is nearly the same as losing the entire population of Oak Park, Schaumburg, Markham, Bolingbrook, and Crystal Lake combined.

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"The public health nightmare that we're facing here is tremendous. and we've got to bend this curve, we got to do it now and we've got to throw everything at it," said 22nd Ward Alderman Michael Rodriguez.

He grew up in Little Village and is fighting to expand testing there.

"This has been a terrible situation, one that is unimaginable and we need to come together as a community to create solutions to this terrible problem," Rodriguez said.

At the neighborhood's largest testing site, cars stretch around four city blocks, 100 in line at a time all day. Signs warn that this is a "hot zone."

Caritina Almanza works for the non-profit Enlace. She said she's finding that on top of the grief, families who lose someone to COVID-19 are often plunged into a financial crisis.

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"It's been really difficult just to see a loved one passing away because that means that, that's one less income coming in and then it's not only, it's a struggle for the whole family," Almanza said.

Experts believe that for every COVID-death, nine close family members are left to grieve.

"We estimate that well over 2.2 million Americans have lost a close relative to COVID-19," said Emily Smith-Greenaway, Associate Professor, USC. "It gives you a sense of how much grief and loss is blanketing our country right now," she said.

"Throughout the pandemic black families are disproportionately dying from this disease and we know that Latino families are disproportionately COVID positive. That's a fact and that's what happening across our country. We know that access to public health, we know access to education and understanding the impacts of this virus to be quite frank have disproportionately negatively impacted Black and brown communities throughout this country and that's also the case here in the city of Chicago," Rodriguez said.

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Now, as the virus resurges, the need for care is stretching capacity of community health workers here on the front lines.

"We had 1,500 phone calls before 10 a.m. That's typically what we deal with in a whole day, pre-COVID. So the volume of people needing testing, needing care is just through the roof," said Sarah Diamond, Lawndale Christian Health Center.
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