CHICAGO — More African Americans are dying of COVID-19 in Chicago than any other racial group, according to data released this week by the Chicago Department of Public Health. This disparity reflects what public health researcher Daniel Schober at DePaul University has found in his own work in the city. Schober, an assistant professor at DePaul, discusses the causes of health inequality for African Americans before and during this pandemic.
Q: What are some of the factors that may be putting African Americans at a higher risk of contracting and dying from the coronavirus?
A: Several factors may contribute to this, including a lack of access to health services, and the tendency to delay seeking health care due to a lack of insurance. Inequities in daily life may also contribute to this, including, employment that requires exposure to the disease, having to use public transportation, and living in close quarters with others who may have been exposed to the disease.
Q: What are some of the structural problems, in Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S., that are making this pandemic worse for African Americans?
A: There are several structural issues that present challenges for African Americans. Many neighborhoods on the South Side and West Side of Chicago have been segregated and with this comes disinvestment, resulting in limited access to healthy foods, safe places to be physically active, and longer commutes to access health services.
Q: What are some examples of underlying health conditions that put this population at risk, and what have you learned in your own research about managing these conditions?
A: Individuals who have chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure may be at greater risk — and African Americans deal with chronic disease at higher rates than white populations. I've studied health behavior among older adults in the African American community in Chicago and found that managing high blood pressure presents challenges that range from inconsistent use of medication to mistrust in hypertensive medications. This inconsistent use of medication is due to cost, transportation and simply forgetting.
Q: What could our elected officials do, now and in the future, to address these health disparities?
A: These disparities have been present for many years and although they aren't likely to disappear overnight, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's formal recognition of this problem and dedication to understanding and improving health disparities among our communities of color is a great start to ensuring that these communities have the resources they need to reduce their exposure.