Mayor Lori Lightfoot sends teams to address ‘breathtaking’ number of coronavirus cases in Chicago’s Latino community

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will create teams to address a “breathtaking” spike in coronavirus cases among the city’s Latino population, she said in a Wednesday news conference.

Lightfoot unveiled several measures to address COVID-19 in Latino communities, including a plan to host virtual town halls to raise awareness, expanding the city’s so-called Rapid Response Racial Equity Team to further target areas with high case rates, and working with unions to reach Latino workers in hard-hit industries. Recent data on coronavirus-related deaths is opening a window into how hard the pandemic is hitting Latino communities. Across Illinois, Latino-majority areas have the highest number of confirmed cases, and on average, tests in those areas come back positive 41% of the time.

As of Tuesday, a ZIP code in South Lawndale, which includes Little Village, had the highest number of cases in the state, 1,596,

Lightfoot and public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Latinos in the city accounted for 14% of COVID-19 cases and 19% of deaths four weeks ago. Today, 37% of cases and 25% of deaths are Latinos. “We have reached another critical moment for our city, confronting the impact of COVID-19 on Chicago’s Latinx community,” Lightfoot said, using a gender-neutral term for Latino. “With increasing testing, improved reporting and the continued spread of this terrible virus, we are seeing a surge in cases among our Latinx cases. This demands we dig down deeper and work harder to confront this reality.” It’s hard to count the number of Latinos who have died of the new coronavirus because the medical examiner hasn’t until recently been labeling cases with that identifier. But by Tuesday, ZIP codes that include Little Village, with 50 deaths, and Belmont Cragin, with 40, in Latino majority-areas, were among the city neighborhoods with the greatest number of fatalities.

The toll on Latino communities is being seen across the city. At Mount Sinai Hospital, Latinos make up two-thirds of the patients in the COVID-19 unit, said Dr. Sunita Mohapatra, the infectious disease chief at the West Side hospital. On the Northwest Side, at least 19 residents of the Center Home for Hispanic Elderly have died of COVID-19-related complications.

In Little Village, a testing facility operated by Howard Brown Health and Project VIDA had tested 1,175 people since April 16, and a majority — about 56% — tested positive for COVID-19 with almost all showing multiple symptoms. Some have shown up so sick at the clinic that workers had to call for an ambulance after people passed out while waiting for the test, Howard Brown Health officials said. Dr. Marina Del Rios, an emergency room physician at University of Illinois in Chicago Medical Center, said she and her colleagues are seeing more Latino patients coming in who often have been sick for some time. She worries this could indicate that the death toll will start to rise among this community. “Now, the question is, ‘Is this the new wave, the Latino wave?’” Del Rios said. Experts and advocates say existing conditions for Latinos such as lack of private insurance and the likelihood of having preexisting conditions could all be factoring into the uptick. Advocates say more financial assistance is needed for these communities, particularly because some immigrants can’t get unemployment benefits or federal stimulus funds.

Cook County officials are setting up more testing sites at county health centers, including one that will serve Latino communities in Cicero, Berwyn and Melrose Park. The county also is working with community groups to provide services for those who need to quarantine, and to trace the contacts of infected people. Carmen Vergara, chief medical officer of Esperanza Health Centers, said at Lightfoot’s news conference that her workers are testing 150 patients per day with supplemental supplies being provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health. “Many of our patients are essential hourly workers who do not have the privilege to work from home,” Vergara said.

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