By Ayana Jones
PHILADELPHIA — A group of medical professionals is bringing testing for the novel coronavirus directly to Philadelphia’s African-American community.
On Thursday morning, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium loaded up a van and drove throughout the city to offer coronavirus testing at select locations.
“There are too many of us dying and too many of us with the disease,” said Dr. Ala Stanford, one of the leaders of the initiative.
“Right now, aside from the social distancing that so many of us are doing, we’re not getting tested. If we’re living in a household with folks, you’re not self-isolating in your home because you don’t know if you’re positive or not. Some of the measures that can decrease transmission we can’t do because the tests are not equally accessible to everyone.”
Their new testing initiative comes as African Americans account for approximately 52% of the coronavirus deaths where the deceased’s race is known in Philadelphia.
Racial disparities have appeared in New York City, as well as Louisiana, Illinois and Michigan, where Blacks tested positive at higher rates and accounted for more virus-related fatalities than their makeup in those populations.
Philadelphians living in higher-income neighborhoods have been tested for the novel coronavirus six times more frequently than those living in lower-income neighborhoods, according to a study by Drexel University epidemiologist Usama Bilal.
Most of the city’s test sites are focused on testing health care professionals and people with symptoms of COVID-19, which can include a dry cough and fever, and are at high risk (age 65 or older) or immunocompromised.
“Some of the barriers that exist in the city — requiring folks to have referrals, to be in a car and certain age limitations — are preventing everyone who needs a test from getting a test,” said Stanford, a surgeon and founder of Real Concierge Medicine.
According to medical professionals, African Americans are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus for various reasons, including lack of access to health care; their occupations on the front lines; living in crowded, segregated communities; and having chronic conditions such asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
The Consortium is partnering with Salem Baptist Church, Enon Tabernacle Church, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church and their pastors to eventually offer testing in church parking lots. Testing will be held this Saturday at a location to be determined. Efforts are being targeted toward the most statistically at-risk ZIP codes in Philadelphia.
“We reached out to the city and Dr. Tom Farley’s office is going to provide the epidemiologic data to let us know what specific areas are being hardest hit and that’s where we are going to park and where we are going to test folks,” Stanford said.
The consortium’s efforts are supported by 30 doctors, nurses and assistants. Stanford said their ultimate goal is to test 1,000 people a week.
Marshall Mitchell, the pastor of Salem Baptist Church, assisted consortium members as they served community members on Thursday.
“What we are doing now is consistent with this history and the DNA of our faith at Salem Baptist Church,” Mitchell said.
“Helping people and doing for others is what we do and what we believe,” he continued. “In many ways, this is — as dark as it is — a blessing in disguise and it gets us doing our faith in a way that we never could do it, inside the walls of our church. We wouldn’t have been in North Philly, or Southwest Philadelphia, or Tioga today, helping to meet the health needs of people unless this happened.”
The consortium’s testing initiative does not require a doctor’s referral and there is no age limit. Testing is open to those who have symptoms associated with COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who tested positive within the last 14 days. People who are tested should receive their results in three to five days.
Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.