COVID-19 in Philly: Black doctors consortium offers free COVID-19 testing during Ramadan

Dr. Ala Stanford, Founder of the Consortium and Imam Mikal Shabazz, resident Imam of Masjidullah are pictured here at the testing (Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Samaria Bailey

PHILADELPHIA — The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium held coronavirus testing at Masjidullah on Tuesday, marking the first time the group has organized an effort at an Islamic house of worship.

Since they began their work in April, the volunteer group of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals have mostly offered testing in church parking lots because of the access to space and people.

“We are here at the masjid during Ramadan and it is so meaningful to see people who are attune to the community’s needs and health,” said Rev. Marshall Mitchell, Consortium organizer and Senior Pastor of Salem Baptist Church.

“We’ve really been doing parking lots and not churches. We’ve been chasing the disease. Sometimes people think we’re actually chasing church relationships – Enon or Salem, or Mt. Carmel but we’re not doing that all. We’re chasing the disease and what we’re able to do is identify meaningful partners in the community who have people, who have a parking lot where we can do the logistical work.”

Mitchell said the Consortium tested nearly 300 people in Masjidullah’s parking lot and along the sidewalk for walkups, which, just as the other sites, was filled as soon as the volunteers arrived.

Wolf proposes creating army of public health workers to tackle contact tracing of COVID-19

“We wanted to do this here at Masjidullah because we are aware this is a hotspot. There are a lot of cases in this area,” said Shirley Jones Shakur, Advanced Practice RN and nursing professor. “It’s really important for us to do this as a public service because public health really matters and when we test massively those with symptoms and those without, what we are doing is getting a vast picture of what the real public health is. When we get cases of people that are sick in hospitals, we are getting a polaroid shot of two weeks. When we get the number that died, we get a polaroid picture of three weeks, but it doesn’t tell us what the mass community looks like.”

Shakur noted that she was able to connect Masjidullah with the Consortium after talking with a friend, Dr. Lynda Thomas-Mabine, who also volunteers with the group. Within a day after requesting the Consortium come to Masjidullah, Shakur said Dr. Mabine “made it happen.”

The latest on COVID-19 in Pa.: 51,845 confirmed cases in 67 counties

Masjidullah resident Imam Mikal Shabazz said the testing came at a symbolic time as the Islamic community observes the holy month of Ramadan.

“We’re very happy and feel blessed by almighty God to have such important endeavors as this occurring, especially during the month of Ramadan, because, during this month we try to do extra good deeds to get many blessings,” said Imam Shabazz. “The prophet told us there are many ways to do good and this indeed is a great opportunity for us. Our people have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and it’s spreading in our community. Within our community, there’s been a lack of testing. It’s so important to commend Dr. Stanford and her team because she recognized this deficiency. Not only did she recognize it, but she took steps to correct it and do something about it.”

Masjidullah member Rahim Abdur said he was moved to take the test as a precaution.

“I was a little nervous. But it was short and sweet. I’m glad I took I a chance because so many people out here have it,” he said. “It’s better to be safe than not to be.”

Rahima Z. Abdullah, another Masjidullah member who got tested, agreed, reiterating that testing was a key step to curb the spread.

“As a participant, I think it’s very necessary,” she said. “If you think you just have allergies, if you’re sneezing a lot, if you have asthma and your lungs have been filing up because of the asthma, I think it’s very important to take the test. In order for us to get back to the normalcy, we need to get tested and not be afraid. It’s free, we need to take advantage of the opportunity to get tested for the safeguard of our families.”

Samaria Bailey is a correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.