PROVIDENCE — Public health experts say a key to getting a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic is stepping up testing for the highly contagious virus.
Through its Community Health Institute, Lifespan has been partnering with nonprofits and local agencies to offer tests to people with disabilities, the elderly, Black, Latino and other underserved or hard-to-reach populations in Rhode Island.
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“This creates opportunity and eliminates barriers with the intention of casting a wide net to reach across all communities and cultures,” said the Rev. Howard M. Jenkins Jr., pastor of Bethel AME Church in Providence, one of the entities working with Lifespan to expand the reach of testing in the state.
He spoke at a news conference in the parking lot of the church on Rochambeau Avenue, where a mobile testing event was set to begin Monday afternoon. Jenkins was joined by Dr. Timothy J. Babineau, president and CEO of Lifespan, Carrie Bridges Feliz, director of the Lifespan institute, and Womazetta Jones, secretary of the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
The institute has conducted 13 mobile events over nearly two months, testing 790 individuals so far, in partnership with the Providence Housing Authority, the Central Falls Housing Authority, Elmwood Avenue Church of God, Center for Southeast Asians, Islamic Center of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and other groups.
Test-positive rates at the events have ranged from 0% to 18%.
Jones’s office helped in the effort by helping to select the mobile sites in neighborhoods with high case rates or where testing has been comparatively inaccessible.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us all … and using a race equity lens we can clearly see how communities of color and those living in densely populated and poor neighborhoods have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic,” Jones said.
The tests are being supplied by the state Department of Health and offered to people with coronavirus symptoms. Lifespan is processing the tests at its own laboratory facilities — where results are coming back within a day or two — and paying for the costs of testing for anyone who does not have insurance. The mobile events are open to the public without an appointment.
Babineau said that making sure there are enough testing kits remains an issue.
“Just recently, as colleges have returned to campus, the supplies are getting even tighter,” he said. “Right now at Lifespan we have sufficient kits for symptomatic patients. We’d love to see the day when we could test asymptomatic people, but we just don’t have enough test kits.”
The Lifespan institute is providing follow-up services to anyone at the mobile events who tests positive, including connecting them to food delivery programs and health centers.
“We have been encountering people who frequently tell us that they couldn’t find another place to get tested or who came to us because word gets out that our return rate is pretty quick compared to other sites,” said Bridges Feliz. “The theme, I would say, from the sites where we’ve been testing is relief. People come and find relief.”
Upcoming mobile testing events will be held:
Tuesday, from 1 to 3:30 p.m., at West Elmwood Housing Development Corp., 224 Dexter St., Providence
Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon, at Bethel AME Church, 30 Rochambeau Ave., Providence
Thursday, Aug. 27, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Higher Ground International, 250 Prairie Ave., Providence
Monday, Aug. 31, from 3 to 5:30 p.m., for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, at 335 Prairie Ave., Providence
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