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Lightfoot leans on community groups to curb spread of coronavirus among Latinos

Latinos account for 42% of all positive COVID-19 cases despite making up less than a third of Chicago’s population.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot listens to Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health during Lightfoot’s coronavirus update for the City of Chicago, Monday, May 11, 2020. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Mayor Lori Lightfoot listens to Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health during Lightfoot’s coronavirus update for the City of Chicago, Monday, May 11, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

At a virtual town hall Wednesday evening, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’s depending on “trusted” community groups to curb the spread of the coronavirus among Latinos.

On Wednesday, Latinos became the first racial or ethnic group in Chicago to record more than 10,000 cases of the coronavirus, according to data released by the city. Latinos now account for 42% of all COVID-19 cases despite making up around 30% of the population.

Lightfoot acknowledged shortcomings in the city’s efforts to reach Latinos early on in the pandemic, particularly residents who are primarily Spanish speakers.

Part of the problem, Lightfoot said, was the lack of testing sites in Latino neighborhoods.

“Early on, we were worried that there was a significant undercount among [Latinos] .... we were not getting enough demographic data from the providers doing testing so that we could fully measure the impact this virus,” she said.

Now that testing has ramped up and a clearer picture has emerged, Lightfoot said her administration is laser-focused on curbing the spread of the virus in neighborhoods that have recorded the biggest spikes like Little Village, Belmont Cragin and Archer Heights.

Crucial to curbing the spread of the virus in those areas are community health centers, Lightfoot said, which predominantly serve black and Latino Chicagoans and are open to everyone regardless of whether they health insurance, including undocumented immigrants.

Lightfoot called on those community health centers to refer patients to hotels the city has contracted to quarantine if they test positive for COVID-19, especially if they live in crowded, multigenerational households and can’t isolate.

“Early on in our response to this virus, we set up hotels that were specifically designated for quarantining and isolation, and so we need to do a better job of communicating the availability of those resources in the Latinx community, and that’s where [community health centers] play a very important role,” Lightfoot said.

The city will also rely upon community groups who provide resources and know-your-rights trainings to immigrants, Lightfoot said, “and we are tapping into that network to help us both educate and understand the day-to-day lived experiences [of Latinos.]”

Lightfoot said social distancing and working from home are “luxuries” that many Latinos can’t afford and promised to make workplaces as safe as possible during the pandemic.

“The biggest issue we have,” said Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd), whose ward encompasses Little Village, “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.”

Jorge Mujica, a labor organizer with Arise Chicago who listened in to the town hall Wednesday, said Lightfoot should send police officers to inspect work sites to ensure physical distancing measures are being implemented.

“It’s pointless to keep telling the community to stay at home if they’re being infected at work,” he said. “The mayor sent the cops over to the lakefront and to the 606 Trail, but she should really send to them factories to inspect whether or not workers are being protected.”

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.