Establishing Covid-19 Testing Sites for All

Testing has been a persistent challenge throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Buffalo, New York officials worked with their community to identify and set-up testing sites in communities that are most at-risk.

Testing has been a persistent challenge throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Buffalo, New York officials worked with their community to identify and set-up testing sites in communities that are most at-risk. SHUTTERSTOCK

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

COMMENTARY | Racial and socioeconomic inequities continue to be exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Community leaders must engage residents who are most vulnerable to identify equitable response measures.

As Covid-19 cases continue to surge across the country, making sure everyone has access to the care, testing and support they need is crucial to containing the virus and enabling states to stay open safely. A good place to start is asking and listening to residents from the neighborhoods that have been most impacted by the disease about what they need, which is what we did in Buffalo. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic started, we’ve engaged directly with block clubs, faith leaders and community advocates to identify potential gaps in our response, particularly around our testing approach. From these conversations, we learned that one option we were exploring—a drive-in only testing site—would severely limit access for too many residents. If our goal was to test those most at risk for the coronavirus, we needed a site within walking distance to accommodate people who don’t have a car or drive.

That guidance from the community, as well as from county officials, led us to convert a library in the heart of a Black neighborhood with the highest number of coronavirus cases into a walk-in and drive-thru testing venue so everyone could access it. The community dialogue also led us to establish Covid-19 testing sites along common bus routes to make it easier for essential workers to get tested on their way to or from work. And we co-located testing sites in heavily trafficked community centers that also serve as food banks for food-insecure families.

As a Black man whose work centers on citizen engagement, I also decided to get tested even though I had no Covid-19 symptoms. I did it to be a role model and assuage fears among a community with a historic distrust of the medical system. When I tested positive, it was a shock since I was asymptomatic. But I seized the opportunity to share my experience with others and educate the contact tracer who followed up about how to convey health information in a culturally sensitive manner.

These efforts are hardly remarkable. They are common sense steps to make sure no community is left behind, can survive a pandemic and thrive when it’s over.

Yet, our actions seem remarkably unique.

Many localities across the country aren’t soliciting input from people in the most affected communities to inform their Covid response, as well as reopening and recovery efforts. This is evident in multiple studies that have found that people in communities of color, who face a higher risk of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths, don’t always have the access to the care they need, particularly when it comes to testing.  

An NPR investigation examining the location of testing sites in Texas—one of the first states to reopen after the first round of lockdowns and is now a Covid-19 hotspot—revealed that in four of six of the largest cities, testing sites were disproportionately located in whiter neighborhoods. Similar patterns have been seen in black communities across the south like in rural Alabama and across much of the Black Belt. Similarly, another study found that Black Americans face an above-average risk of living in a testing desert, and in areas where cases are increasing.

As more hotspots emerge, the location of testing sites is critical to controlling outbreaks and identifying who is infected. Given how important testing and contact tracing are for a full recovery, state and local policymakers should be talking to community members most at-risk for direction to avoid exacerbating inequities.

Recently issued health equity principles for coronavirus recovery could steer leaders in that direction. These principles urge localities to promote fairness and equity by asking: do people facing the greatest need have access to testing and treatment? And, are we creating ways for residents, particularly those who are hardest hit, to meaningfully participate in and shape the government’s recovery strategy?

For communities to recover fully and fairly, state and local policymakers must create spaces for leaders in harder hit communities to be at decision-making tables. That means regularly consulting with community-based organizations that can identify barriers to accessing health and social services, offer sensible solutions and disseminate public health guidance in culturally and linguistically appropriate ways.

We’ve been doing that in Buffalo even before the pandemic hit. As director of citizen services, I have worked closely with community leaders to reduce social isolation in a city with long, cold winters. Because we already were working together to connect neighbors and more effectively use public spaces to build community, we didn't have to start from scratch to cultivate relationships. We built on that foundation, and on the deliberate and meaningful partnerships with faith leaders, residents, community organizations, health care providers, county officials and the mayor. All that work has helped us respond to Covid-19 in ways that are fostering health equity.

As our nation grapples with past and present racial injustices, we must recognize and reform the ways in which the systems designed to protect all of us fail to meet that goal. A person’s race shouldn’t dictate opportunities for good health. For coronavirus testing to be accountable to all—especially people of color—we have work to do. It starts with asking and listening and ends with real, systemic change.

Oswaldo Mestre is the Chief Service Officer & Director of Citizen Services for the City of Buffalo, NY.  He works with residents, block clubs and organizations to better service the community, through programs aimed at supporting the rejuvenation of inner-city neighborhoods.

NEXT STORY: Local Officials Say a Nursing Home Dumped Residents to Die at Hospitals

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.