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  • Former county health chief: Racism common factor in deaths in ’95 Chicago heat wave, COVID-19

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Former county health chief: Racism common factor in deaths in ’95 Chicago heat wave, COVID-19

Source(s):  Chicago Sun-Times

By Maudlyne Ihejirika


As temperatures shot up to a frightening 106 degrees on July 13, 1995 — and remained stuck in high double digits for five days — bodies began to pile up at the office of Cook County Medical Examiner, Dr. Edmund Donoghue. By the time it was over, some 739 poor and elderly Chicagoans — mostly people of color — had died.


Myriad studies — including a 2002 book by Eric Klinenberg, “Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago,” and the 2018 documentary “COOKED: Survival By Zip Code” — blamed the deaths of so many elderly in South and West side Zip codes on the city’s failure to address poverty and disinvestment in those neighborhoods. Bodies were found decomposing in homes.


Nationally, racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality were first highlighted by officials in Illinois and Chicago. Statistics reported last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed Blacks and Native Americans dying from the disease at a rate five times that of whites; and Latinos, at a rate four times higher.


The ‘95 heat wave changed how the city responds to extreme temperatures, leading to more stringent heat emergency planning nationwide. But advocates question whether cities are adequately prepared for this summer’s collision of heat, pandemic and revolution.


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  • Publication date 28 Jun 2020

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