Data from the Illinois Department of Public Heatlh indicates that black residents of Evanston are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 as would be predicted by their share of the city’s population, while whites are about half as likely to have received such a diagnosis.

The data, which reflect the case count in the city as of Tuesday, is incomplete, with more than 20 percent of the cases not assigned to a racial or ethnic category.

But it indicates that Hispanics are being diagnosed with the novel coronavirus at a rate that reflects their share of the population, while no Asians here have yet been diagnosed with the disease.

The available data does not indicate whether there are racial disparities in the rate at which residents are being tested for the disease.

Substantial attention has been drawn to the disparity in death rates by race among COVID-19 victims in Chicago — where blacks, who make up 29 percent of the city’s population, have suffered 70% of the deaths from the disease.

The death rate disparity has been much smaller in Evanston so far. In only one of the city’s five COVID-19 death so far has the victim been identified as black — which at 20% is only a slightly higher rate than the share black residents in the city.

Several explanations have been offered by health officials for the higher death rate in Chicago, including more crowded living conditions in low income communities that may aid in the spread of the infection and higher rates of other diseases that make COVID-19 infections more severe.

Mayor Steve Hagerty said the apparent disparity in infection rates in Evanston reflects “a terrible, institutional racism that’s existed in our country for a long time.”

Health care disparities were known about before the disaster of COVID-19, the mayor says, “But now it’s in our face.”

He said the city has not ignored the problem of disparate health care access — with former Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and the City Council working to establish the Erie Family Health Center on Dempster Street that provides preventive care for many low income residents.

Now, he says, Evanston needs to double down on what its been doing on equity — helping those most in need in the community — including addressing health care needs.

Update 5 p.m.: Gov. J.B. Pritzker outlined several steps the state plans to take to address the needs of black residents, mostly in the City of Chicago and the south suburbs, for greater access to COVID-19 testing and treatment during his news conference this afternoon.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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