An online forum hosted by Springfield’s NAACP chapter this weekend highlighted Illinois’ COVID-19- related racial disparities and aimed to dispel myths about the new coronavirus.
The forum touched on myths, like black people supposedly being immune to the coronavirus, and outlined the barriers those residents have faced in accessing testing and safely staying at home.
For example, when Illinois’ tests were being limited to those with a doctor’s note, black people had a harder time getting one and might not have been tested at all. Testing has since been opened up to those without doctor’s orders.
State and local health leaders also pointed out black people are more likely to have a chronic or pre-existing condition, like heart disease, that puts them at risk for catching COVID-19.
Illinois Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton was among those who spoke during the forum.
“We know that this pandemic did not create the disparities that we see. It has only highlighted or put a spotlight on the disparities that we have always known have existed in our communities,” Stratton said.
Those black-centric challenges, Stratton explained, are causing Illinois’ black community members to die more frequently than people in other racial groups.
“When America catches a cold, then black people catch pneumonia, and today we can also say that when America catches the novel coronavirus, black America is dying,” she said.
Other officials, like Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, pointed to recent department data showing around 37 percent of people who have died from COVID-19 in Illinois so far were black.
Like Lt. Gov. Stratton, she said the coronavirus continues to expose deep-seated racial divides.
“When you get a community that has not gotten the care that they need, and then you stick some crazy new virus on top of it, it’s going to exploit what’s already there,” Ezike explained.
Meanwhile, Stratton cited a study from the Economic Policy Institute that showed few black people have the luxury of living and working exclusively at home as Gov. J.B. Pritzker has ordered. It showed 80 percent of black workers nationwide have no choice but to go to work in person.
“When we think about those working in grocery stores and on public transportation...they’re in jobs that often fail to provide comprehensive benefits and they often leave so many members of our community being exposed to the virus,” Stratton said.
Speakers at the online forum stressed the importance of following public health guidelines, and reminded attendees of economic resources like the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, among others.