Chicago has been under effective lockdown for five weeks now. All restaurants, non-essential stores, schools and public venues have been closed. The City has blocked all access to the Lakefront Park System (which covers nearly 30 miles of the City’s border with Lake Michigan), though most of the City’s in-land parks appear to be open. Citizens are permitted to shop for essentials and otherwise go outside, as long as they do not congregate in crowds, exercise appropriate social distancing and wear masks. Dog walking is also permitted. My employer, the University of Chicago, has shut own all in-person activities and has shifted all education instruction to remote learning platforms for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year.
Chicago’s experience with the quarantine and its battle against the spread of the virus has seemingly been bearing fruit. There has been a very high number of cases (nearly 30,000), not as high as the most burning hot spots in the US—New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Louisiana, Massachusetts – but devastatingly high none the less. Over 1200 people have died here from Covid19 as of Friday April 17. But the number of new cases has begun to flatten. The state governor (Pritzker) and our Mayor (Lightfoot) have indicated that they believe that quarantine action is warranted for another month, at least.
The most alarming aspect of the Covid19 crisis here in Chicago is the dramatically unequal way in which the virus has spread within the City’s population. Many feared initially that the virus would have its most devastating impact on elderly citizens. But what Chicago is showing is that the virus is affecting lower income groups with high levels of co-morbidities (obesity, hypertension, diabetes etc) most dramatically. This is true across all age groups. Over 50% of those affected in Chicago are African American (over 70% of deaths are African American), with the highest concentration of cases centered in the poorest income zip codes in the City. The zip codes in the City that prior to the spread of Covid19 were centers of unemployment, underemployment, food deserts, poor health, and high levels of gun violence, are the ones now that have the highest number of Covid19 cases and deaths. It was also announced a week ago that the Cook County Jail, the largest city Jail in the United States, was a huge hot spot for the virus, with over 300 cases (more than any other Jail in the Nation).
In these ways, Chicago is America: The crisis is making those whose lives were already quite miserable even worse, while for the most part those who prior to Covid19 lived quite comfortably, continue to do so—albeit under quarantine.
Gary Herrigel (SASE President 2017-2018)