Little Village lawmakers handed out nearly 10,000 blue surgical masks at a neighborhood bank’s parking lot Wednesday with the hopes of curbing the spread of COVID-19 in what has become a major hotspot for the coronavirus in Illinois.
Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) said the high caseload in Little Village is a reflection of the high number of “essential” workers who live in the predominantly Latino neighborhood.
“The biggest issue we have is that a lot residents who are deemed to work ‘essential’ jobs in industries where the proximity of workers lead to higher rates of the virus,” he said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the ZIP code that encompasses most of Little Village reported 2,210 cases of COVID-19 — more than any other ZIP code in the state, according to data released by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Rodriguez originally planned to distribute 5,000 masks Wednesday, but those were all gone by noon. Another 4,850 masks were given out by 1:30 p.m., he said.
In total, more than 50,000 masks have been handed out in Little Village since the pandemic started, according to Rodriguez. But residents say some of their neighbors aren’t using any.
“A lot of people are walking around without masks, and they get offended if you ask them to put one on,” said Isidro de La Paz, who’s lived in Little Village with his wife, Magdalena, for more than 30 years.
“We have to start taking this thing more seriously,” Magdalena de La Paz said.
Joining Rodriguez on Wednesday were U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya, and Oswaldo Alvarez, director of the Illinois Census Office.
They each handed out plastic bags with five surgical masks and information on how to fill out the census. Some bags also had bottles of hand sanitizer with the Illinois census logo.
Alvarez said Little Village had the worst response rate for the census out of all neighborhoods in the city, followed by Brighton Park, Hermosa and Belmont Cragin — areas that also have high immigrant populations and seen major upticks in coronavirus cases.
“It’s not a coincidence that these neighborhoods where a lot of immigrants live are also the same ones that are afraid to fill out the census, can’t work from home, and are afraid about going to the doctor to check if they’re infected,” he said.
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.