A new report from the Chicago Tribune finds Black and Latinx birthing parents represented the vast majority of COVID-19 cases while pregnant in Illinois. According to data shared by the state’s Department of Public Health last week, nearly half (49 percent) of all these cases affected pregnant Latinx parents, while another quarter (23 percent) affected Black expectant parents.
Illinois’ Black and Latinx populations comprise just 15 and 14 percent of the total population, respectively. But when it comes to pregnant parents contracting the coronavirus, Black and Latinx women accounted for more than 70 percent of all related cases.
From the Tribune:
At least 1,089 women in Illinois have had COVID-19 while pregnant, and of those cases, five have died, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data received Thursday. Nearly half of them, 43%, were hospitalized, although the department can’t confirm whether it was related to their pregnancy or fighting the virus.
Among these women, 49% were Hispanic and 23% were Black. Melaney Arnold, a Health Department spokesperson, said the reporting likely underestimates pregnant cases by about 30% because for much of the data, pregnancy status is unknown.
Notably, pregnant women don’t appear to be more at risk for contracting the novel coronavirus than non-pregnant women, but do show higher rates of hospitalization, according to the Centers for Disease Control (unfortunately, the CDC didn’t differentiate whether those hospitalizations were due to the virus of the pregnancy).
While Black maternal mortality rates have been (correctly) identified as a nationwide crisis in recent years, Black pregnant parents fare worse in Illinois than they do in other parts of the country. As the Tribune reports, Black women are six times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications in the state and are much more likely to have cardiovascular disease. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said the latter disparity is due in part to systemic racism and racial bias in the healthcare system.
“The issues that our community faces are just being exacerbated and brought to light during the pandemic. They have been issues for a long time,” Mary Calderon, a doula who works with young moms, told the Tribune. “When a woman is experiencing chronic stress from scarcity, not having enough food, not knowing where she’s going to live, being unemployed, chronic stress from racism, that seeps in on a cellular level.”
The Tribune report comes out as the New York Times has released its own investigation of how the coronavirus has impacted Black and Latinx populations across the country. The report supports previous documentation that found higher rates of infection and mortality for the coronavirus among Black and Latinx Americans. The Times article paid particular attention to coronavirus rates in the suburbs and exurbs, where trends are underreported compared to major cities.
The Times notes that “ a significant imbalance in the number of virus cases, not just deaths” points toward systemic inequities, rather than underlying health issues. Dr. Mary Bassett, the Director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, elaborated on this, telling the paper that the focus on comorbidities when talking about coronavirus deaths made her angry.
“This really is about who still has to leave their home to work, who has to leave a crowded apartment, get on crowded transport, and go to a crowded workplace, and we just haven’t acknowledged that those of us who have the privilege of continuing to work from our homes aren’t facing those risks,” said Bassett.
Last month, CDC officials said the true number of coronavirus cases was likely 10 times the number of reported cases. Without proper documentation, officials can’t determine whether the unreported cases had the same racial and ethnic fault lines Americans have been seeing in reported infections.