Dozens of Austin residents have died of COVID-19

April 26, 2020
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Eighty-two lives.

That’s how many Austin residents have been lost to COVID-19 since the pandemic hit earlier this spring, city officials disclosed Saturday.

Austin residents ranging in age from 26 to 97 years old have died, with most deaths being of those over 60, Dr. Jennifer Seo, medical director of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a virtual meeting attended by nearly 200 people on Saturday.

Austin is one of three Chicago communities – along with Auburn Gresham and South Shore – the city is targeting because of how many people have died of COVID-19 in these neighborhoods.

In all of Austin’s zip codes, 6,522 people have been tested for the coronavirus, and of that number, about 30 percent – or 2,101 people – have tested positive, Seo said.

People with asthma, diabetes and hypertension are at particular risk, and Austin residents suffer from those ailments at higher rates than the rest of the city, she said.

For instance, 13% of Austin residents have asthma, compared to 10% citywide; and 39% of Austin residents have hypertension, compared to 28% of Chicagoans who have it.

“Our Austin community is greatly affected,” Seo said.

Loretto Hospital President and CEO George N. Miller agreed, saying: “Austin has been hit very, very hard, and we’ve been hit very, very hard.”

He thanked the Austin community for donating personal protective equipment to hospital workers and restaurants for providing meals to the healthcare workers who are “vey busy” both in the emergency room as well as the COVID-19 unit, Miller said.

He announced Loretto has been designated a state testing site and starting Monday will be offering tests from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the hospital, 645 S. Central Ave., either walk-up or drive-thru. The tests are free, and no insurance is required.

PCC Community Wellness Center also is doing drive-thru testing, though an appointment must be made in advance by calling (773) 295-3347; tests will be conducted from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The testing site is located in the parking lot next to the PCC Austin Farm at 330 N. Lotus St. (across from PCC Austin Family Health Center).

State Rep. La Shawn Ford late last week announced the former Walgreens at 1606 N. Mobile Ave. is another testing site, operating from 9 a.m.t o 4 p.m. Residents must register in advance, and it’s a drive-thru site only. For more information, click here.

Dr. Seo and Dr. Sarah Tarnowsky, who works at PCC, both stressed that only certain individuals should be tested, and those not experiencing any symptoms definitely should not seek a test.

Seo said she worries people who test negative for the coronavirus won’t then take the necessary precautions, like continuing to stay at home and maintaining social distancing if they do go out.

“There isn’t an unlimited amount of testing … so we need testing to be available for our community members who are over 60 or have underlying health conditions.”

The most important steps each of us can take, Seo said, is: Stay home, and if you must leave your home, stay at least 6 feet away from others at all times. Also make sure to frequently wash your hands so the virus doesn’t get into your eyes, nose or mouth.

When outside your home, facial protection should be worn, Dr. Seo said, though she noted cloth masks are helpful but not 100%. The purpose of the mask is not to protect you but everyone else; and surgical and N95 masks should be reserved for health personnel and first responders.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) said while he sees many people wearing masks, not everyone is wearing them correctly; masks need to cover both a person’s mouth and nose.

Residents are welcome to join Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady each week day at 11 a.m. via the city’s Facebook page to ask questions about the coronavirus. The city also updates the number of cases and deaths in Chicago; that data and other information can be found here.

Residents can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at (312) 746-4835 or email coronavirus@cityofchicago.org.

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