Groups push for more COVID-19 testing in underserved communities
By Ashley Bowerman | July 3, 2020 at 10:19 PM CDT - Updated July 3 at 10:48 PM
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The American Diabetes Association along with over 100 other national groups, including Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, and AARP, sent a letter to congressional leaders calling for them to focus their efforts on increased testing in the most vulnerable communities as they continue to be hardest hit by the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“When you look at the correlation of people who are hospitalized and dying from COVID-19, there’s a disproportionate number of people who are with diabetes, people of color, [and] lower socioeconomics,” said American Diabetes Association CEO Tracey Brown. “We have a responsibility to actually do something about that and one of the things is taking the testing to the communities that need it.”
These organizations believe that barriers to access like lack of transportation, insurance coverage, and access to information, makes it difficult for people in underserved communities to get testing unless it is brought directly to them. They say this can be done through increased funding, community hospitals, non-profit health organizations, mobile vans, etc.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, shows that African-Americans account for one-third of virus cases nationwide, despite making up just 13 percent of the U.S. population. More data from the CDC shows that Native Americans and Eskimos are hospitalized for COVID-19 at five times the rate of white Americans.
“There are more tests available now than there were two months ago, but where the tests are being distributed is the issue,” said Brown. “Where you see these drive-thru clinics popping up is useful if you have a car and can drive there, but if you don’t have transportation or you take public transportation, this is where you have to start to say ‘Where is the walk-up clinic?’ ‘Where is the mobile van?’ ‘Where are the community centers?’ Can we get testing into these centers?”
Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers said there have been more than 600 different specimen collection clinics set up across the state, and 350 more are scheduled to be set up very soon.
“What we have been doing, in especially our more rural counties, is assessing with city and county leaders where there are places where persons may have less transportation, or less access and actually going to those cities and counties, the smaller cities and counties and towns, and setting up a health department specimen collection clinic,” she said. “So, that is very important, that’s something that we have already been doing.”
Landers said they have also expanded their criteria to include testing specifically for people with diabetes.
“One of our criteria is persons with high-risk conditions, so persons with diabetes can be tested regardless of their symptomatology,” Landers said.
ADPH’s outreach so far also involves setting up pop-up clinics in some smaller cities and towns to help with accessibility, according to Landers. For example, in a church or high school parking lot.
Landers added that some of the larger counties have their own access to commercial and clinical laboratories, so the health department has not done some testing in the “extremely large” counties.
Pop-up testing sites have helped ADPH meet their testing goal of about 2 percent of the state’s population per month.
“Across the board in all of our counties we are meeting our testing goal,” Landers said.
However, Landers said more testing is not the problem.
“We’ve got a lot of testing going on now, so testing is not really accounting for increased numbers now,” she said.” What is accounting for increased numbers is increase in community transmission. In other words, person to person spread, so we have exactly the prescription to reduce community spread and that is remembering that people are safer at home.”
ADPH has a list of testing sites open across Alabama on their website.
Dr. Landers says if you feel that your community needs more access to testing, call your local health department and find out what opportunities are available.
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