Lightfoot: COVID-19 Disparities a "Public Health Red Alarm"

April 6, 2020

African Americans make up more than half of Chicago’s COVID-19 cases and more than 70% of the deaths from the virus, even though they are 30% of the city’s population, according to Chicago Dept. of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D.

“Those numbers take your breath away,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at an afternoon press conference. “This is a call to action moment for all of us. When we talk about equity and inclusion, they’re not just nice notions. They’re an imperative we must embrace as a city.”

Lightfoot announced a series of steps that the city is taking to address what she calls a “public health red alarm.”

The city is ordering healthcare providers to collect total demographic information on COVID-19 patients and establishing a task force, including the group West Side United, activists and community groups, to lead a rapid response team focusing on the South and West sides of the city.  Lightfoot said the city will also start using bigger buses to promote social distancing and send inspectors into grocery stores and corner stores to ensure that they are enforcing social distancing.

Arwady pointed out the already existing healthcare and economic disparities and inequities in Chicago, including an 8.8 year life expectancy gap between white and black residents, largely driven by chronic disease.

“Even if we had a perfect healthcare system in which anyone could access a doctor," Arwady said, "we would still see significant health disparities because of food deserts and lack of walkable streets. By and large, this is not, I’m sorry to say, a surprising story. It is one that demands action in a short-term way and in the way we will be working on for decades to come.”

For more details, see the Mayor’s press release.