Austin nonprofits to get city funding for COVID-19 efforts

City's Racial Equity Rapid Response Team to partner with West Side United, Austin Coming Together

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Austin is one of three Chicago neighborhoods identified by Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration for an engagement campaign to fight COVID0-19, officials announced April 20.

Austin was chosen – along with two South Side communities – based on data that indicated a need for action to address the disproportionate impact the global pandemic has had on African American communities, officials said.

The city's newly formed Racial Equity Rapid Response Team and West Side United will partner with Austin Coming Together and two other anchor community groups in Auburn Gresham and South Shore to develop hyperlocal, data-informed strategies to slow the spread of COVID-19 and improve health in these communities.

"With the recent reports of how COVID-19 is taking the greatest toll on the black community, the importance of addressing the disparities that exist in Chicago is paramount as it is also a well-known fact that the social determinants of good health are not in our favor," Darnell Shields, Austin Coming Together's executive director, said in a statement last Monday.

The aim, Shields said, is "to develop and implement strategies that meet the need in Austin and other communities hit hardest by this pandemic."

To provide targeted information and get input from residents in Austin, the city hosted a tele-town hall this past Saturday, April 25. 

Earlier this month at a meeting of the 15th Police District faith leaders, Sybil Madison, deputy mayor for education and human services, hinted Austin was among the neighborhoods the city was considering for the campaign.

"What we're going to need in places like Austin – which has a high rate of (coronavirus) cases and high rate of mortality – we're going to need our community leaders, our activists, our institutions, our city departments to really mobilize around this effort," Madison said then.

As of last Monday, 538 people had died of COVID-19 in Chicago, according to the city. As of last Sunday, at least 20 of those deaths were of Austin residents, city data shows. Click here for COVID-19 data from the state that shows the number of positive cases by ZIP code. 

Key elements of the new campaign include:

  • An operations team has been integrated into Chicago's Emergency Operations Center to enable coordination and resourcing of strategies developed through local partnerships and collaboration to identify gaps and solve problems faster.
  • An education/communication working group is tailoring messaging to speak directly to the realities that people in Austin and the two other Chicago neighborhoods face, including protecting loved ones and guidance for essential workers and multigenerational households. This information is being delivered to people in their homes, including 80,000 door hangers placed over the last week and 150,000 mailed postcards.
  • A providers working group is developing strategies to reach patients with underlying health conditions that increase the risk of contracting COVID-19.
  • Community leadership networks are coordinating the distribution of masks and protective resources to local residents in their communities, including 60,000 face masks donated from Dr. Willie Wilson in partnership with Sinai Health System.

"The work of the newly formed Racial Equity Rapid Response team is central to West Side United's mission which identifies structural racism and historical disinvestment in black and brown communities as pillars of disparity and inequity," Ayesha Jaco, West Side United's executive director, said in a statement.

"The immediate investments needed to address the COVID-19 mortality and infection rates in high-risk communities also warrant a long-term commitment this initiative can deliver by building the capacity of communities and residents to arm themselves with the tools and resources to stay informed and healthy," Jaco said.

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