COVID-19 testing begins in Virginia's low-income neighborhoods

Posted at 10:14 AM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 10:15:22-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond-Henrico Health District launched their first walk-up testing site Tuesday morning off Woodman Road in Henrico. The effort is designed to bring coronavirus testing into low-income areas, where healthcare access is not equitable.

“The focus of this testing is on the un-insured or under insured,” said Dr. Stephen Richard, Clinical Director Henrico Health Dept. “We’re hopeful that by doing these sort of testing we will help identify hotspots and areas that we can then track and limit the spread of the disease.”

Moments of rain in the morning limited the number of tests crews administered at the Woodman West Apartment complex, according to Richard. He said 10 people signed up for an appointment through the Richmond-Henrico coronavirus hotline, which is the preferred method, and fifteen walk-up tests were administered. The hotline number is (804) 205-3501.

If you live in neighborhoods with upcoming testing events and are experiencing symptoms, call the number to reserve an appointment. Callers can also learn about future testing events.

“It wasn’t as robust as we’d hoped. We had about 25 people come through. We were prepared to see about 100,” Richard said of the first event Tuesday.

Health leaders said they plan to announce testing events one day prior to allow people to get appointments, but they do not want to be flooded with people who do not need help getting a test on their own.

The Virginia State Lab, VCU, and UVA provided the testing materials, according to health officials. Richard said the team that helped administer tests are part of Virginia’s Medical Reserve Corp.

While health leaders said they have enough testing supply to run at least eight more events, the number of kits are limited, which is why patients are being screened for symptoms before getting tested.

“When I say symptomatic, with respiratory symptoms, fever, fatigue, gastrointestinal symptom. There are a number of other symptomatic criteria that we have, as well as those who have immunological disorders or are elderly,” Richard said. He added the Health District is working to acquire more supplies for future testing events beyond the ones already planned.

Virginia health leaders said they are watching the Richmond-Henrico program closely and plan to use it as a pilot program for the entire Commonwealth.

“We’ll be able to judge from that how we can use that sort of information and scale it up across the state,” said Dr. Norman Oliver, Virginia’s Health Commissioner.

Richmond and Henrico Health District Director Danny Avula said another reason for the community outreach was to combat the virus in the African-American community.

"The data tells us that African Americans are carrying a higher burden of disease than their counterparts. And, you know, as we've talked about, it's not surprising, it continues to be frustrating and heartbreaking, but it is indicative of the underlying health disparities that we've known about for a long time," he said.