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Lightfoot, Pritzker respond to surge of COVID-19 cases among Hispanics

Four weeks ago, Latinos comprised 14 percent of Chicago’s coronavirus cases and 9 percent of the deaths. Now, it’s 37 percent of the cases and 25 percent of the deaths — in a city where 29 percent of the population is Hispanic.

A mural in Chicago’s Little Village neighbhorhood, which has a large Hispanic population.
A mural in Chicago’s Little Village neighbhorhood, which has a large Hispanic population. Coronavirus cases are on the rise in the state’s Latino community, prompting action from state and local officials. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced some measures targeting the affected communities, including Little Village.
Sun-Times file

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Declaring it a matter of “life and death,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday outlined a series of actions to confront an alarming surge in coronavirus cases among Hispanics.

Lightfoot said it was time to sound the alarm “given the sharp increase that we’ve seen — particularly over the last week-to-10 days.”

Four weeks ago, Latinos were 14% of Chicago’s coronavirus cases and 9% of deaths. Now, it’s 37% of the cases and 25% of the deaths. Both numbers continue to rise in a city where 29 percent of the population is Hispanic.

As a result, Lightfoot has expanded the scope of the “racial equity rapid response teams” first created to address the spike in cases among Chicago’s African American residents.

That earlier 14% city figure for HIspanic cases was suspected to be low, and those suspicions were justified, she said. The higher number was recorded after the city ordered testing services to make sure they were recording demographic information for those testing positive.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker also highlighted that racial disparity at his daily briefing Wednesday.

Statewide, he noted, despite making up less than a fifth of the state’s population, Latinos in Illinois last week surpassed all other racial and ethnic groups in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases.

Pritzker added that of the 26,517 people who identified themselves as Hispanic, 15,959 have tested positive for COVID-19. That rate of 60% is three times the state average. The Latino population statewide is 17%.

The data “shines a concerning spotlight on which of our residents are most likely to get sick from COVID-19,” Pritzker said.

“Decades of institutional inequities and obstacles for members of our Latinx communities are now amplified in this pandemic,” he said.

Pritzker said his administration has testing partnerships in areas around the state with a focus on communities with significant populations who are more vulnerable to the virus.

Of the more than 200 public testing sites in Illinois, a third are in communities with a significant Latino population, the governor said. All seven drive-thru sites in the state offer bilingual support.

African Americans had borne the brunt of the virus, with 72% of COVID-19 deaths despite being 30% of Chicago’s population. That share has declined slightly, to 52% of Chicago coronavirus-related deaths.

Lightfoot is “not declaring victory” in the African-American community, but said the Hispanic surge requires an equally potent response focused on neighborhoods with the highest concentration of cases, including Little Village, Archer Heights and Belmont-Cragin.

That means:

• Launching a “multi-lingual digital and video campaign”

• Distributing thousands of postcards and door-hangers to impacted residents

• Three bi-lingual virtual town hall meetings—for seniors, immigrant youth and the broader Hispanic community.

The first town hall, for Hispanic seniors, will be Thursday night in partnership with AARP and Univision.

To respond to “case clusters in industries and facilities with a high Latinx workforce,” the city is also working with federally qualified health centers and local unions — including SEIU Local 1, United Here Local 1 and the Laborers District Council — to provide wellness checks and additional supports. SEIU Local 1 has an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

“We will ensure that residents who need housing for quarantine and isolation can gain access through the hotel system” to the rooms already offered to the homeless and first-responders, Lightfoot said.

“This is an interim solution and we continue to work on longer-term options. This is going to be critical for our families who live in multi-generational homes and need a safe place to get through this virus without risking the health of their parent, grandparent or other vulnerable family members.”

The mayor also blamed President Donald Trump for making undocumented immigrants most vulnerable to the virus because they work in the health care and food service industries afraid to seek medical care until it’s too late.

“There are consequences of the president’s hateful, xenophobic demonization of this community. And why we can never scare our families into the shadow,” Lightfoot said.

Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady acknowledged the number of coronavirus cases and deaths among Hispanics is likely to “increase for some time” as testing expands and reporting improves.

“I would expect that we may see more deaths in the Latinx community as a percentage than we’ve seen also,” Arwady said.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), one of the mayor’s most outspoken City Council critics, denounced the mayor’s outreach as “too little, too late.”

For weeks, Hispanic testing for the coronavirus has lagged behind, Lopez said. And he questioned why it took the city three-and-a-half weeks to translate the first “flier of any kind of substance in a language other than English,” Lopez said.

“She did nothing to address the fact that many of the essential workers are…Latinos. Those should have been the first priority areas for where you’re putting the testing and the resources. Not the last,” Lopez said.

“You are now doing a multi-lingual campaign and outreach seven-and-a-half weeks into the pandemic when I and others have been literally screaming at the top of our lungs to get them to do something for immigrant communities?”

Lightfoot was asked why it took the city so long to respond to the “endemic issues” that exist in the Hispanic community: multi-generational families living under the same roof filled with essential workers in industries that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.

“We’ve been reacting to this from Day One. We’ve been deep into the Latinx communities for some time. The difference is, what we’re seeing is a surge. That’s what’s bringing us here today,” she said.