MERIDEN — When a member of the Raiders football team tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago, the league reached out to the Community Health Center to get players tested.
The CHC brought its mobile testing unit to Washington Park twice to test players and their parents. It has also tested 50 parishioners at Mt. Hebron Baptist Church, and at other sites in the state.
This Saturday, the Community Health Center will offer free COVID-19 testing on the Meriden Green as part of a customer appeciation event at the weekly Farmer’s Market. Adults and children can be tested from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Results are available in about two days.
Testing outreach into urban and minority neighborhoods is part of the Community Health Center’s mission, said Mike Rohde, a city councilor and director of community relations at Community Health Centers Inc. The urban population, predominately minorities, are also seen by medical professionals as being at among the highest risk for catching, spreading, and falling seriously ill from complications caused by COVID-19 infections.
During the pandemic, residents in low-income neighborhoods faced challenges in getting tests and other services. Until May, the majority of the state’s testing sites required a doctor’s note, and many people living in low-income neighborhoods have no insurance or doctor to refer them.
The state has prioritized the testing of densely populated urban centers to keep track of future outbreaks of the coronavirus. In Connecticut, Black residents are 2½ times more likely to die from a coronavirus infection than whites. The death rate for Hispanics is 67% higher than for white residents, acccording to public health reports.
People of color here are also more likely to work in high-risk, “essential” jobs, such as those in nursing homes, grocery stores and retail, to live in densely populated communities, and to have higher rates of pre-existing conditions like diabetes and asthma.
Bolstered by a $2.2 million federal grant in April, Community Health Centers have worked to improve medical care via telemedicine and provide community-wide testing.
“CHC is firmly committed to addressing disparities in health care and removing barriers to COVID-19 testing for underserved communities,” spokeswoman Leslie Gianelli said. “In addition to the daily testing we perform at 11 locations across the state, we offer several mobile “pop-up” testing sites each day of the week, focused on bringing testing to organizations such as churches, shelters and senior centers to increase access.”
The mobile sites are listed on the centers’ website https://www.chc1.com/covid-19-testing/ and updated daily as locations are added.
Rohde has seen some reluctance among minority populations to get tests, he said, and hosting events at places such as Mt. Hebron has helped alleviate some anxiety.
“One thing is building trust, we have a good relationship with Mt. Hebron,” Rohde said. A lot of time if the faith leaders let people know it’s serious and it’s important, they’ll get tested.”
There is also mistrust of the medical community because of past experiments done on Black men in the south, and the fear of immigration enforcement may prevent some Latinos from giving out identifying information to obtain test results. The test itself is also unpleasant, Rohde said, but the swabs are shorter now and don’t have to be in the naval cavity as long.
“Part of it is the communication,” Rohde said. “And people are still afraid to go go out.”
Sarah Lewis, vice president of health equity, diversity and inclusion for Hartford HealthCare, said some reluctance or mistrust is always a factor in the medical community and something any “thoughtful provider or health care worker would want to keep in mind.”
Hartford HealthCare has conducted tests all over the state to a variety of populations, groups and communities based on needs; including the homeless population, assisted-living facilities and other locations in partnership with local health districts, Lewis said.
Meriden Health and Human Services Director Lea Crown said the department is developing an educational strategy when it receives its epidemiology and laboratory capacity funding from the state. One plan is to have posters placed on Colony Street in the near future, Crown said.
To date, the city has had tabulated 16,111 entries for testing and has reported 1,094 positive COVID-19 tests, 1,059 confirmed, 35 probable, and 80 deaths.
Testing is a critical part of any strategy to control the spread of the virus and improved access has benefitted at-risk populations, health care experts said. Knowlege that 40 percent of COVID spreaders could be asymptomatic, and the state’s intent to implement Phase III reopening, places even more importance on testing.
“Our department encourages anyone who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or anyone that has a known exposure to someone with lab-diagnosed COVID-19 to get tested,” Crown said in an e-mail. “This testing, combined with wearing a face covering, social distancing, frequent hand washing, regular cleaning and disinfecting, and staying home if you are sick, can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our city. Our department realizes that strong community partnerships are key in the fight against this pandemic and thank the work CHC is doing in reaching out to our vulnerable populations.”