In Chicago and Los Angeles, Virus Spread Is Slower, but Persistent

Chicago News

As cases of the coronavirus spiraled upward in New York City, leaders of other big cities watched with worry, searching for ways to avoid an escalation of the magnitude that might overwhelm hospitals. In Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, fear of explosive growth — the kind that overtook New York City, Detroit and New Orleans — has faded in recent days, but the Chicago area has faced its own stubbornly high numbers.

Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago and its closest suburbs, has added more cases of the coronavirus than any other county in the United States on some recent days. On Friday, Cook County added more new cases than the five boroughs of New York City combined.

“Watching a city of such global importance go through this absolutely horrific experience is so incredibly sad to see, but also of course a cautionary tale for the rest of us,” Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, said of New York City. She said she had conferred with mayors in many of the country’s largest cities in recent weeks. “All of us have to be prepared, and thinking about, ‘How do we not become the next hot spot?’” she said.

But the nation’s largest cities after New York — Los Angeles and Chicago — are wrestling with a puzzle somewhat different from the one New York faced: a caseload that has not skyrocketed but nonetheless remains steadily worrisome.

Together, the counties around Chicago and Los Angeles and the five boroughs of New York City accounted for about 15 percent of the country’s newly identified cases on a recent day.

ImageMayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago toured a medical facility that was constructed to handle a flood of cases in Chicago and that officials now say is not needed.
Credit…Pool via Getty Images

Cook County has about 51,600 total cases and has been mostly adding between 1,400 and 1,900 new patients each day. Los Angeles County has more than 31,000 total cases, with average daily growth of about 850 cases over the last week. And New York City has more than 188,000 cases and 19,000 deaths, but its new cases have slowed to about 1,700 per day in the past week.

In an interview, Ms. Lightfoot said she was particularly concerned about data that shows that the virus has had a disproportionate effect on black and Latino residents.

Though Latino residents make up less than a third of Chicago’s population of 2.7 million, they account for 40 percent of all positive cases, according to data provided by the Chicago Department of Public Health. And black residents, who make up about 30 percent of the city, account for 50 percent of the city’s death toll in the pandemic.

ProPublica Illinois reported that 70 of the first 100 people who died of the virus in Chicago were black and that many victims had received unclear guidance about treatment or lived near hospitals that were unprepared to treat coronavirus patients.

“This is the manifestation of decades of neglect,” Ms. Lightfoot said. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s exactly that.”

Ms. Lightfoot said she was also worried that warmer weather would lure Chicagoans out of their homes and too close to one another, as it had in New York, leading Mayor Bill de Blasio to limit crowds at two popular parks. The prospect of a long, steady — but not exploding — outbreak may complicate the task of officials in trying to persuade residents to continue staying home.

Credit…Joshua Lott/Reuters

On Friday, she outlined plans for Chicago to further reopen businesses, issuing a set of benchmarks that would need to be reached before some nonessential workers could return to work. Among them: a consistent decline in cases over two weeks, a decline in emergency department visits for coronavirus symptoms and the capacity to test 5 percent of Chicago residents each month. So far, none of the benchmarks have been met, an official said, and no date has been set for reopening.

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