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In Chicago, 70% of COVID-19 Deaths Are Black

The COVID-19 virus is killing black residents in Cook County at disproportionately high rates, according to early data analyzed by WBEZ.

While black residents make up only 23% of the population in the county, they account for 58% of the COVID-19 deaths. And half of the deceased lived in Chicago, according to data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. 

As of Saturday, 107 of Cook County’s 183 deaths from COVID-19 were black. In Chicago, 61 of the 86 recorded deaths – or 70% – were black residents. Blacks make up 29% of Chicago’s population.

The majority of the black COVID-19 patients who died had underlying health conditions including respiratory problems and diabetes. Eighty-one percent of them had hypertension, or high blood pressure, diabetes or both.

As the virus continues to spread, the high mortality rate for black residents is alarming.

“It’s disturbing and upsetting, but not surprising,” said Linda Rae Murray, health policy professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “This is just a reflection of the facts that we already know about these pandemics. People who are vulnerable will die quicker and won’t have as many resources.”

It’s still early in the pandemic and health officials are assessing information on which groups of people are being affected, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Saturday. Ezike said she “would not be entirely surprised” if a disproportionate number of deaths were occuring in black communities.

“As we put on our health equity lens, we already know [that] before COVID was ever established that the health outcomes for various communities are already different,” she said. “So if you know those disparities exist in terms of health outcomes, you can imagine that overlaying a new disease is only going to exacerbate whatever inequities already exist.”

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