Illinois Targets COVID-19 Disparities Among Blacks; Pritzker Won’t Say When Schools Might Re-Open

Apr 10, 2020

Dr. Suzet McKinney (left) CEO and Executive Director of the Illinois Medical District and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike.
Credit Governor's daily briefing

Citing statistics showing blacks with COVID-19 are five times more likely to die than white patients, the state is taking steps to address the disproportionate impact. 

Through a partnership with the Ann and Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago and four Federally Qualified Health Centers, testing will be expanded on the city’s south and west sides.  The governor said that will mean up to an additional 400 tests per day. The swab samples will be taken at the centers, which treat low income, uninsured and underinsured residents. From there, they will be sent to the hospital for analysis.   

A similar operation is being launched in Metro East as part of the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation system and Anderson Hospital. 

“Generations of systemic disadvantages in healthcare delivery and in healthcare access in communities of color and black communities in particular are now amplified in this crisis,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

A south suburban drive through testing center will open next week in the Markham-Harvey area. 

Also, the state is preparing for 2,000 hotel rooms across the state to be used for quarantines if needed.  The rooms could be ready as early as next week in Springfield, Rockford, the Quad Cities, Mount Vernon, Peoria, Carbondale, Quincy, Marion, Macomb, Champaign, the Metro East and the collar counties. 

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said her agency has created a COVID-19 equity team involving other departments that will work to address health disparities. 

The equity team has launched COVID-19 text messaging. Text the world COVID to 312-500-3836. For Spanish speaking residents, text COVID ESP. "You can opt in so you can receive text messages and have the most accurate information about coronavirus and how you can protect yourself," she said.

Dr. Horace Smith of Lurie Children’s Hospital is also a church bishop who appeared at the daily coronavirus state briefing. 

“In scripture, we are taught we owe the most to those who have the least.  And so we must not ignore this. We must not be divided by it. We must do what is being done today,” he said. 

Smith says the statistics are no surprise given the long-standing disparities in access and delivery of health care services. 

Vibra Hospital Update

Gov. Pritzker previously announced a shuttered Springfield hospital will be used to expand capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it could be another month before the former Vibra Hospital is able to accept patients. 

Pritzker Friday said construction at the facility is targeted for completion May 9th.   Work is being done on other locations in the Chicago area, where more cases have been reported.  Those sites are expected to open this month. 

The governor says the Springfield area still has enough ICU beds available and it could be a few more weeks before the additional beds might be needed.

Pritzker said Vibra and the other facilities being opened will make sure anyone who needs a bed can get one. 

School Uncertainty

The governor won’t say if schools will re-open for students this spring.  

Pritzker has ordered schools to teach remotely for now.  The current “stay at home” order is in effect through April 30.  If lifted at that time, that would still leave a few weeks in the school year for the possible return of students.   

But Pritzker said it’s still too soon to make that call.  He said as the end of the month approaches, he’ll take guidance from public health officials.

“That’s going to dictate what the answers to the questions are,” he said. “It’s not what I am saying at the podium on any given day. It’s about what the best scientists we’ve got are telling us how we ought to operate going forward.”

A day earlier, Pritzker recommended large summertime events be canceled.