CHICAGO| Chicago’s Black and Latino communities are expected to be most affected by a surge of what health experts call a “tridemic.” It is a triple threat from the flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19.
Here in Illinois, like across many parts of the country, hospitals are seeing a dramatic rise in patients with respiratory viruses. An average of 2,135 COVID cases per day were reported in the state last week by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). The agency says that cases have increased by 11 percent from the average two weeks ago and that deaths have increased by 6 percent.
With Chicago and suburban Cook County back under an elevated COVID alert level, both shifted from “low” to “medium” status, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) reiterated precautions to reduce the spread of respiratory viruses, especially with more gatherings planned during the holiday season.
The City’s top doctor is encouraging everyone six months and older to get their COVID and flu vaccines. “We are especially concerned for Latinx and Black Chicagoans who have borne the brunt of the COVID pandemic and are the least protected,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.
By the end of the first wave in 2020, Black residents made up 43 percent of COVID-19 deaths despite being 29 percent of Chicago’s population, and Hispanic residents made up 48 percent of COVID-19 cases despite also being 29 percent of Chicago’s population, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Subvariants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 has taken over the BA.5 COVID variant in recent weeks, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The two reportedly account for approximately 44 percent of new COVID infections nationwide.
There have been at least 3,860,866 total COVID cases in the state since the start of the pandemic and more than 35,423 related deaths. At least 1 in 315 residents have died from the coronavirus.
Chicagoans have become relaxed about getting their latest inoculations — about 15 percent of eligible persons have received the newest bivalent vaccination, which protects against subvariants as well as the original virus strain. Only 14 percent of Latino residents and 17 percent of Black Chicagoans have received the new booster, compared to 57 percent of white residents.
Chicago’s Black neighborhoods still aren’t fully vaccinated, according to an analysis of the latest data from the CDPH. About 11 Black zip codes have full vaccination rates below 60 percent. The rate for the city is 75.1 percent.
“They were the two communities with the lowest vaccination rate, and it still stands today, which means there is a lot of work to continue doing in these communities,” said Dr. Juanita Mora, an allergist, and immunologist for the Chicago Allergy Center.
Arwady fears dwindling federal funding for public health also threatens to raise the COVID-19 risk again in Chicago.
Chicago has received federal funding since the pandemic began. As a result, the City’s health department budget ballooned from approximately $220 million annually to around $1 billion this year. The monies have gone toward staffing, community vaccination centers, education, outreach, testing, and disease tracking, among many other programs. The federal aid — nearly 90 percent — is set to go away within the next two years, Arwady said.
The news is incredibly disheartening to community hospitals like Saint Anthony Hospital, where the beds and emergency rooms are full. RSV, COVID, and a rising number of flu cases push the small hospital on the border of Little Village and North Lawndale back into disaster planning.
The hospital that serves a minority, Medicaid population, is struggling with staffing shortages. “We went from one crisis to another,” said Raquel Prendkowski, chief nursing officer at St. Anthony. “It’s hard to navigate that.”
“2022 Chicago Resiliency 2.0” is another round of relief being offered for families affected by COVID. The direct cash assistance program is designed to help Chicagoans who may have been left out of the COVID stimulus. The program is aimed at caregivers of adults or households with adult children or other family members.
People who claimed adult dependents in their 2019 taxes could apply at www.chicash.org. The application period ends on December 9.
Free COVID vaccines are available at pharmacies across Chicago and the suburbs, including CVS and Walgreens. However, Mora encourages people who haven’t been vaccinated to get their shots now because they could potentially cost $80 starting January 1.
Anyone looking for information on where to get a COVID vaccine in Chicago is encouraged to head to the city’s online Vaccine Finder.
Cover Photo by Gustavo Fring.