COVID-19 Across Chicago: Humboldt Park

Humboldt Park residents had been clamoring for a COVID-19 testing site, and last week, they got one. 

The drive-thru site, operated jointly by the Norwegian American Hospital and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, administers about 40 tests per day (residents are asked to call ahead for an appointment). 

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Interactive: More from our series, COVID-19 Across Chicago.

The site has been sorely needed in the community, the western portion of which lies in a zip code that has seen a very high rate of COVID-19 infection, reporting 898 cases — and those numbers are on the rise as more testing comes online. 

Norwegian American has treated around 200 patients with COVID-19, according to Hospital CEO Jose Sanchez, who says the increased testing is a crucial part of getting the issue under control in Humboldt park.

“About 50% of those tests are coming back positive, which means there is a lot more COVID-19 in this community than we originally predicted,” Sanchez said. “Many of our patients have pre-existing conditions, and we know they are much more at risk of dying than any other group.”

Humboldt Park in some ways mirrors the profile of neighborhoods that have been hit hard by the virus: a large number of seniors, day laborers and undocumented immigrants. But it’s also a neighborhood that has undergone gentrification with rising property values – especially east of its namesake park. But it’s also home to three small hospitals that serve the community, and to the landmark Jens Jenson-designed park with field houses and lagoons. 

Residents have worked hard to maintain the Puerto Rican character. 

The Puerto Rican Cultural Center is an organization with numerous facilities, including an HIV/AIDS center, a transitional house for LGBTQ youth and facilities for physical and mental health services. Sara Gonzalez, the director of behavioral health at the center, says she’s worried about a marked uptick in substance abuse issues since the pandemic hit and shutdowns took effect.

“People, when they feel anxious, if they’re already at risk, they tend to go to cannabis or pills over the counter to feel better,” Gonzalez said. “We are handling a lot of crisis. People losing family members, people that are afraid, people that want to get tested and they don’t know where to go.”

Food insecurity is another pressing issue across the community. 

On Thursday, residents lined up outside the European American Association for a weekly distribution of food supplied by the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The association has been around since 1991 providing food, home care and help with utility bills for neighborhood seniors and veterans. Workers estimate they are serving twice as many patrons since the shutdown hit.

“We normally treat 150 people every week, but with these challenging times, the need has been increased and we’re seeing 300-400 people coming to our pantry,” said program director Elena Florea.

Many of the regular food shops on Division Street, also known as Paseo Boricua, have shut down.  Café Colao, a staple in the community for 19 years, reopened this week after closing for the month of April. 

Owner Juanda Colon says she was nervous about coming back to work because of her own compromised immune system. But she says the café has put rigorous safety measures in place.

“They have to let me know whether they have a cough, a fever, a sore throat, or are sneezing, and their temperature is taken,” Colon said, adding that she has seen business return to about half of what it was pre-shutdown.

“As long as I can pay employees and buy the ingredients we need, if I can break even, I’ll be OK,” she said.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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