Dr. Ezike visited the couple in the hospital and it became clear to her the kinds of troubles that the country was about to face.
“We were waiting for official test results to return from the C.D.C. because we didn’t yet have the ability to run the test at our public health labs in Illinois,” she recalled. “The gentleman was considering ‘releasing himself’ from the hospital isolation — he was concerned about missing work and not providing for his family while sitting in isolation.”
“In those moments, I gathered my first inkling of the challenge to be faced in containing this virus and how one’s personal economic or financial situation would affect decisions that would affect not just the individual but the community as a whole.”
Then on March 21, Illinois became one of the first three states to implement stay-at-home orders.
“I think that significantly helped,” Dr. Ezike said.
To date, there have been more than 100,000 cases of coronavirus in Illinois and more than 4,900 deaths, bringing the state’s fatality rate to about 39 deaths per 100,000. That number is far below the country’s top three hot spots: New York, which has a fatality rate of 150 deaths per 100,000, New Jersey, where the rate is about 125 per 100,000, and Connecticut, which has a rate of about 105 per 100,000.
But Illinois also has some of the country’s largest black and Hispanic populations — communities that, according to the C.D.C., are at a greater risk of dying from the disease, in part because of longstanding inequalities that have made access to health care harder. Thirty percent of the people who have died in Illinois are African-American, according to the state’s public health department.
Most of those communities are largely concentrated in Cook County, which includes Chicago and its suburbs. The county currently has the most confirmed cases in the entire country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And, in early April, Cook County Jail became one of the country’s largest coronavirus clusters, with more than 1,000 infections among inmates and staff and six deaths.