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42% of Illinois’ coronavirus deaths are black people — but only 15% of the state population is

Meanwhile half the state’s confirmed cases are people under the age of 50, but almost none of those young people have died.

Patricia Frieson, who died March 16, 2020 at age 61, was the first known coronavirus-related death in Illinois.
Patricia Frieson, who died March 16 at age 61, was the first known coronavirus-related death in Illinois.
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Two of every five COVID-19 deaths in Illinois have been one of the state’s 1.8 million black residents, and the 10 hardest-hit communities in the state are Chicago neighborhoods that are home mostly to people of color, according to data released Monday by state health officials.

The new figures from the Illinois Department of Public Health point to a disproportionate number of cases and deaths among black Illinoisans, especially in Chicago, and lay bare the divide along racial and socioeconomic lines.

While black residents make up only 14.6% of the state, they’ve suffered 42% of Illinois’ 307 coronavirus deaths. In Chicago, where the population is 30% black, the 108 deaths have been 72% black — an issue over which Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday raised a “public health red alarm.”

Whites make up 76.9% of Illinois’ 12.6 million people, yet they account for only a little more than a quarter of the state’s 12,262 cases and about 37% of deaths.

“The fact that black people are dying at seven times the rate of any other demographic is stunning,” Lightfoot said in an MSNBC appearance Monday evening. “When I first saw these numbers, I had a hard time thinking about anything else because I knew this was going to land like a bomb.”

About 3.6% of black residents who contract the virus — 129 of 3,607 — have died, according to IDPH. That’s about the same death rate for whites and Asians in the state who test positive. For Hispanics with confirmed cases, fewer than 2% are dying.

The community with the most cases in the state is Chicago’s West Rogers Park with 225, a diverse North Side neighborhood more than half made up of people of color. The state’s next nine hardest-hit communities are all on the South and West Sides of Chicago, among them Auburn Gresham with 216 cases, Roseland with 193 and Chatham with 188.

City health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady pointed to the higher incidence of chronic diseases among black residents and unequal access to health care, healthy food choices and safe, walkable streets in under-resourced, low-income communities as reasons for the disparities. Lightfoot added that early misinformation that black people can’t get the virus may have also played a part.

Other experts say the fact that it’s largely people of color who work jobs that have been deemed “essential” means they likely have been exposed to greater risk by still having to go to work.

State health officials didn’t release data on deaths in each community, nor did they include demographic data on counties with fewer than five cases. And only three-quarters of the cases are broken down by race, according to IDPH, because local health providers didn’t list a race for 24.4% of the cases across the state.

The data also reveal that half the state’s confirmed cases are people under the age of 50, with many more young people likely going uncounted because the lack of widespread tests has meant older, symptomatic people take priority.

But those younger residents, for the most part, have so far lived through the virus — less than 0.5% of people under 50 who tested positive have died. While there have been exceptions, public health experts have said for weeks that the main concern with younger people is they might get the virus and pass it on, even if they show mild or no symptoms and survive.

For older residents, it’s a different story.

More than 6% of those over 60 who have tested positive in Illinois have died, and a staggering 9% of cases over the age of 70 have passed away, IDPH figures show. In all, 82% of deaths in the state have been people over 60.

While men and women are contracting the virus at almost exactly the same rate, men have been more likely to die in Illinois — 57% of deaths are men.

And in Chicago, 2.1% of all positive cases have resulted in a death, while a slightly higher death rate, 2.8%, has been seen in the state’s cases outside of Chicago. The most significant outlier is Kane County, where 6.4% of patients — 15 of 243 — have died.

Despite the virus spreading to 73 of the state’s 102 counties, 94% of cases and deaths are still in Chicago and the surrounding area, including Lake, McHenry, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Grundy, Will and Kankakee counties.

Even when Chicago is taken out of the mix, the suburbs — including suburban Cook — account for 52% of cases and 59% of deaths in the state.