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Mapping the Disparities That Bred an Unequal Pandemic

Draw a map of Chicago and shade the areas with more poverty, pollution and coronavirus. It will start to look like being Black is a pre-existing condition. 

Buses and cars crowd the street in Auburn Gresham.
David Johnson

Patricia Frieson was a caretaker, a nurse by trade who looked after her nieces and nephews when they were children, and tended to her mother in old age. When she became the first person in the state of Illinois to die of the coronavirus, news reports made note of her age, 61, and health issues like her severe asthma that made her more vulnerable to this deadly disease.

Less discussed were the details of her surroundings. Frieson lived in Auburn Gresham, which has the highest asthma rate of any neighborhood on the far southwest side of Chicago. Residents can smell the exhaust of buses and trucks that cut across W 79th Street, one of the busiest roadways in the city. Auburn Gresham is also one of the hottest neighborhoods in Chicago and one of the most vulnerable to flooding. Severe heat worsens pollution, which assaults the lungs, while floodwaters feed mold, which does the same. For locals looking for healthful food or medical care, there is little in the way of grocery stores and not one hospital. Auburn Gresham is 96% Black.