COVID-19 and the city (part 1)

Lion statue with a mask in front of the Art Institute of Chicago (source: https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-news/chicago-visitor-quarantine-coronavirus)

“All COVID did was plant itself into the social fault lines that pre-existed,” – David Ansell, author of the book, The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills, and a physician at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

It was the beginning of last year, 2020, when we first heard about novel coronavirus, while still celebrating the start of the new decade, spending time with friends, going to work and planning summer trips. Back then, even as the cases were going up in Wuhan (the epicentre of the first outbreak of COVID-19), we didn’t imagine it would ever reach us and affect our lives in the way that it did (Velavan, 2020). A year later, it is now January 2021, and the number of the COVID-19 cases just surpassed 100,000,000. It’s been a challenging year, to say the least, many people lost their jobs, their businesses, their loved ones. Everyone has been affected, but some have been affected more than others. The communities of colour were the ones affected disproportionately by the pandemic. In this blog, I will take an example of Chicago and look at how the pandemic has affected the minorities shedding light on racial inequalities.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the racial composition of the areas in Chicago with the greatest prevalence of Covid-19 cases was as follows: approximately only 4% Non-Hispanic (NH) White, 11% Latinx / Hispanic, and nearly 83% NH Black (Maroko et al., 2020). Furthermore, the COVID-19 death rate among the Black population in April 2020 was 5.4%, compared with 2.2% among NH Whites. Since then, the percentage of Covid-19 cases and deaths among Black residents has decreased, but it still remains higher than that of the White population.

Let’s look at Figures 1 and 2. We’ll see that the largest number of cases and deaths still occur in the Northwest, West, Southwest and South regions, precisely in the areas with the predominantly Black and Hispanic population.

Why were people of colour affected the most?

One of the reasons for people of colour having a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 is living in poor neighbourhoods with underdeveloped infrastructure and little to no affordable medical care. This type of settlement originates from the Great Migration (1910-1970) when millions of African Americans left the racist South and settled in cities like Chicago. However, even then they were allowed to live only in certain areas. And, if in the beginning people managed to find jobs at large enterprises in the Southern and Western parts of Chicago, later these enterprises began to close or move their production to the suburbs or abroad. Following them, many small businesses such as cafes and gas stations have closed down. The Black middle class moved to other cities in search of work. The result of this was the reduction of the already low investment in these areas of the city. Today, there is little to no access to health care in poor majority-minority areas. About 1 million residents live half a mile from the pharmacy in the South and West of Chicago. According to the government data, the life expectancy of Blacks and Hispanics in Chicago is, on average, 17 years less than that of Whites.

To be continued…


References

Maroko, A. R., Nash, D., & Pavilonis, B. T. (2020) ‘Covid-19 and Inequity: A comparative spatial analysis of New York City and Chicago hot spots’, Journal of Urban Health97(4), 461-470.

Velavan, T. P., & Meyer, C. G. (2020) ‘The COVID-19 epidemic’, Tropical medicine & international health, TM & IH25(3), 278–280.

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