The first reported case of COVID-19 in the United States occurred in mid-January. Two and a half months later, the number of new patients and deaths is staggering. As of today, 397,754 cases have been reported in the U.S. and 12,956 have died from the virus. Every day new statistics, updated data points, and detailed graphs pinpoint the various ways that the virus is spreading and how it’s circulating among different age groups and groups with underlying medical conditions. But what has yet to be fully reported is how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit African American communities, infecting and killing black Americans at disproportionately high rates. In fact, it was only this week that the sparse data began to bubble up into our collective consciousness, thanks to local governments in cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The reasons for the disproportionate impact range from higher rates of underlying conditions like lung disease and diabetes to a lack of access to proper medical care and the inability to practice social distancing, due to factors like crowded homes or jobs that don’t offer work-from-home options.
The CDC has not yet released any data about racial disparities and coronavirus cases around the country, regarding black Americans or otherwise. But earlier this week in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot did make some of the data public. She stated in a press conference that the city’s black residents account for 72% of coronavirus deaths and 52% of the confirmed cases but only make up 29% of Chicago’s overall population. Speaking to PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor last night, Lightfoot noted that “these numbers are shocking to be sure, but they’re not entirely surprising.” Lightfoot, who is one year into her term as mayor, went on to explain that highlighting and combating the disparity in health conditions and life expectancy is something that Chicago’s authorities have focused on for years. Whether strides have been made in that area is certainly still up for debate. But now, Lightfoot, the first black woman and the first openly gay person to be mayor of Chicago, is aggressively and passionately answering what she says “is a call to action.”
The mayor has put into place what her administration is calling a racial equity rapid response team. Localized plans already in motion include the placement of double-sized public-transportation buses in the South and West sides of the city to ensure proper social distancing, as well as educational programs about how residents can strategically plan for social distancing in smaller spaces and properly care for themselves day-to-day, even if they aren’t sick. Mayor Lightfoot and the city’s Department of Public Health have also issued a patient-data health order, which will require all health care providers to record and report demographic data. (The mayor noted that 25% of health care providers are not reporting demographic data.)
“The data is absolutely essential,” the mayor said last night, echoing Representative Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who stressed yesterday in a press conference that “this is an emergency.” As the racial disparities in testing and reporting continue to surface in cities around the country, the CDC must focus its efforts on transparency. Chicago and Lightfoot are setting an example—one that demonstrates how to take care of all residents, not just some, and also one that shows an honest, unbiased approach to this virus. As Lightfoot noted in her press conference yesterday, “We are all in this crisis together, but we are not all experiencing this crisis in the same way.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue