Pritzker Expanding COVID-19 Testing to Address ‘Huge’ Racial Disparity in Cases, Deaths

New statewide totals: 17,887 cases, 596 deaths

Black residents in Illinois are five times more likely to die of COVID-19 than their white counterparts, according to state officials, who continue to see a “huge disparity” in the number of both cases and death related to the new coronavirus based on race.

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On Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the state will expand testing in communities of color and for people with disabilities while issuing new guidance to address the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Generations of systemic disadvantages in health care delivery and health care access in communities of color, and black communities in particular, are now amplified in this crisis all across the state and across the nation,” he said Friday during his daily press briefing. “We are making sure that our plans reflect equity in access, testing and treatment and we are asking the same of health care providers across the state.”

Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Friday there had been 68 more deaths statewide and 1,465 new cases. That brings the statewide total to 17,887 novel coronavirus cases and 596 deaths across 83 counties.

Of the deaths announced Friday, 47 came from Cook County, with decedents ranging in age from a man in his 20s to two men in their 90s.

Illinois has continued to see the coronavirus have a disproportionate impact on its black communities, where residents are far more likely to test positive or die than in white communities.

Data provided by the governor’s office Friday showed that nearly 21,000 white residents have thus far been tested for COVID-19, and 18.36% of them were positive for the virus. But of the 11,413 black residents who have been tested, more than 36% were positive.

Hispanics have also been tested at a much lower rate than whites – only about 3,500 have been tested statewide. But of those, 35% have tested positive, according to officials.

“We will not stand idly by while one segment of the population bears an unfortunate heightened burden of this disease,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. "Testing must be increased among the disproportionately affected populations."

While mortality rates are higher for blacks than whites across the board, Ezike said they get worse in some of the most vulnerable age brackets. Blacks in their 50s are 12 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than whites, she said. The mortality rate of blacks in their 60s is eight times higher than whites, and for those in their 70s, it’s 10 times higher than whites, according to Ezike.

Ezike said blacks typically do have higher rates of underlying conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and noted the “centuries of structural and institutional racism.”

To combat this, Pritzker announced plans for four federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) on Chicago’s South and West sides to expand testing for the underinsured and uninsured to more than 400 tests per day.

Testing swabs collected at those sites – Lawndale Christian Health Center, PCC Community Wellness Center, Chicago Family Health Center and Friend Family Health Center – will then be sent to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago for testing.

Pritzker’s office also issued guidance to the health care community on its obligations to provide health care in an “ethical, equitable and nondiscriminatory manner” to all people regardless of color or disability.

That guidance, a three-page memo, states that “assumptions or stereotypes based on these characteristics serve no meaningful purpose in differentiating between people in the context of healthcare allocation decisions, and as further detailed below, are unacceptable both from an ethical standpoint, and as a matter of civil rights law.”

“No one life,” the governor said, “is any more important than another.”

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

Coronavirus Prevention Tips and Resources

Officials advise taking preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, including: 

—Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
—Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
—Sneezing or coughing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue
—Limiting contact with people regardless of how you feel
—Staying home when you are sick

Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:

—New onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath
—Congestion in the nasal sinuses or lungs
—Sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue

If you think you have COVID-19:

Call you doctor before showing up at their office. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you think you have COVID-19. If possible, wear a mask before medical help arrives or presenting at a doctor’s office. More advice for those who think they have COVID-19.

Additional resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Illinois’ COVID-19 website
Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website
—IDPH COVID-19 hotline: 800-889-3931
—IPDH COVID-19 email link
City of Chicago COVID-19 website
—City of Chicago COVID-19 hotline: 312-746-4835
—City of Chicago COVID-19 email link

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