Illinois Latinos surpass African Americans in coronavirus cases

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 11,848 cases among Latinos on Thursday and 11,353 among African Americans.

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A man waits in line outside El Milagro in the predominantly Mexican neighborhood of Little Village, Monday, April 27, 2020.

The state’s Latino community could soon have the largest number of coronavirus patients among all races and ethnic groups.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

The Latino community in Illinois has surpassed African Americans in confirmed cases of the coronavirus and could have the greatest number of patients among all races and ethnic groups within days.

As of Thursday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 12,276 cases where the patient is white, 11,848 among Latinos, and 11,353 in the black community.

Last week, on April 22, there were about 7,800 patients who were white, 5,800 who identified as Latino and 8,100 who were African American.

The dramatic rise in cases among Latinos is reflective of better testing capabilities and greater awareness of COVID-19 symptoms, but public health experts are raising concerns about the state’s reach among Latino communities in their efforts to contain the pandemic.

“The trend that we’re seeing is that cases among the Latino community are doubling at a faster rate than everyone else, but the response has been limited in those emerging hotspots,” said Aida Giachello, a medical sociologist at Northwestern University and member of the Illinois Latino Covid-19 Initiative, a community outreach group.

“We want sufficient attention and resources to tackle the virus in our community. We need better messaging on what to do if you contract the virus and how to protect others, especially in Spanish.”

Of the coronavirus cases where a patient’s race and ethnicity was reported, 31% are white, 29% are black and 30% are Latino, according to the state health department. About a quarter of the state’s nearly 53,000 cases do not list the patient’s race or ethnicity.

By way of comparison, whites account for 60% of the state’s population, Latinos make up 17%, and African Americans account for 14%.

About 2,400 Illinoisans have died from COVID-19, 40% of whom were white, 35% were black and 14% were Latino.

Arise Chicago labor organizer Jorge Mujica said another reason behind the rising cases among Latinos is they are at high risk of contracting the virus at their workplaces.

“It’s obvious that the source of the spread of the virus has shifted from people traveling to people working, and we know Latinos and African Americans are more likely to work outside their homes,” he said.

Mujica said Latino workers across the state have complained to him about employers not providing proper equipment and work conditions that don’t allow for social distancing.

“Labor laws are violated everyday, this is nothing new, and so we’re seeing the same thing when it comes to the new coronavirus rules and guidelines,” he said.

State figures show many ZIP codes reporting the highest number of coronavirus cases encompass predominantly Latino working-class areas like Little Village and Belmont Cragin in Chicago and suburbs like Cicero.

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.

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