How some uninsured Richmonders can get tested for COVID-19 for free

Posted at 4:54 PM, Apr 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-23 19:35:03-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Uninsured residents of three Richmond Public Housing communities will be to be able to receive a free COVID-19 test at three walk up testing centers next week.

Richmond City Health District (RCHD) will offer testing to individuals ages 5 and older who have COVID-19 symptoms and are pregnant, have serious underlying medical conditions, are age 65 and older, or are uninsured or underinsured. Symptoms of COVID-19 may include:

Anyone who wants to be tested must register in advance by calling the Richmond and Henrico COVID-19 Hotline at (804) 205-3501.

Individuals who register will be assigned a specific time to arrive at the testing site in order to practice social distancing.

Walk-in testing will be available for eligible people but cannot be guaranteed, as testing availability is limited.

People with private insurance are not eligible for testing at these events, but they can learn about available testing options by calling their primary care provider.

The walk up testing centers will be held at the following locations and times:

· Hillside Court on Monday, April 27 - 1500 Harwood Street

· Creighton Court on Tuesday, April 28 - 1810 Creighton Road

· Gilpin Court on Thursday, April 30 - 436 Calhoun Street

Richmond Health Director Dr. Danny Avula announced the new testing sites at a news conference on Thursday and said it is a part of the city's effort to increase access to testing in communities that have not had it before.

"Because of lack of insurance or they have transportation barriers to get out to some of the providers who actually are doing testing right now," said Avula.

Avula noted that African-American communities are disproportionately burdened by the COVID-19 when breaking down the city's 259 confirmed cases.

"60.2% of those in the African American population. About 22% white," said Avula. "Of the 13 individuals who have lost their lives to COVID-19, 12 of them are African American."

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney encouraged anyone who qualifies for the testing sites to sign up. He also addressed what he called social media chatter telling people in vulnerable populations not to get tested.

"I recognize that mistrust of the government is a very real and a very valid concern within our community, particularly in black and brown communities. They've been exploited and abused by government throughout history when it comes down to medical attention, to science and medicine," said Stoney. For generations, they've been misguided and mistreated...and told that this was in their best interest. And I encourage folks to ask questions. We want our all people in our communities to ask questions about the healthcare that they will receive. But today, I can assure you that this is not one of those moments."

Stoney said this is not like the Tuskegee experiment or Henrietta Lacks, but a test to determine whether you have contracted COVID-19.

"Drinking a lot of orange juice, drinking ginger, or lime may be helpful to your immune system, but it will not protect you from COVID-19. Our greatest weapon right now is more testing and practicing the social distance guidelines," added Stoney.

Stoney said Richmonders have been good at following those guidelines, but added they need to keep at it.

"It obviously makes me a proud person, a proud mayor," said Stoney. "This is not a time to take your foot off the gas. This is not time to slack up. I think it's time to, actually, lean in. To keeping that social distance. Staying home if you can, washing your hands, not touching your face, and wearing a mask."

Call for Volunteers

Also at Thursday's news conference, officials addressed what the city will need to begin reopening the city and what the right pace is to do it.

"We've talked a lot about the fact that this will be a phased reopening and so there's active work happening, certainly among our local leadership and at the state level to think about what those steps might look like," said Avula.

The Richmond Health Director said among the biggest requirements from a public health standpoint are that there is enough access to testing and the ability to do contact tracing.

On the latter point, Avula said they are building up their staffing capacity to do that and added they have trained a number of nurses and other types of disease investigators to augment the local department.

"But we're now asking for volunteers who would be willing to do that as well, because as we move into the next few weeks we're going to see an increase in case count. And pretty soon our capacity to contact every one of those positive individuals is going to be tapped," said Avula. "So, if you are a healthcare provider or an epidemiologist who has an interest or time, please get in touch with your local health department. Sign up through the Medical Reserve Corps and we will train you and put you to work and I see this being a big need over the next two to three months."

Avula said they are also talking with Virginia Commonwealth University to train their students as contact tracers.

People interested in volunteering with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps can do so here.

Richmond Public Schools to Provide Meals Until School Reopens
Also at Thursday's news conference, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras announced RPS would continue its food distribution program until school reopens.

"So, whether that is two months, three months, four months, whatever it may be, we will continue to do that," said Kamras.

A spokesperson with RPS confirmed with CBS 6 that will include the upcoming summer months and they are currently working on the best way to distribute those meals.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.