RICHMOND, Va. -- More than 200 people have been tested for COVID-19 at walk-up testing sites held at several of Richmond’s public housing communities this week and officials said they are planning more sites in the weeks to come.
Officials added they hope to expand testing options and allow the health department to gear up for more aggressive contact tracing.
“We look forward to making more testing available for our most vulnerable communities in the coming weeks. Because, we believe that no matter... whether or not you're insured, or uninsured or you are under-resourced, you should have access to the same testing as anyone else has,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said at a news conference on Thursday. “I appreciate the Richmond Health District going the extra mile and getting into the communities that need this sort of testing the most.”
Richmond Health District Director Dr. Danny Avula said 42 people were tested at Hillside Court on Monday, 115 people at Creighton Court on Tuesday, and, as of 1 p.m. Thursday, over 60 people had turned up at the Gilpin Court testing site.
The results of those tests are still pending.
As for future testing locations, Avula said some have been finalized, while others are in the works.
“We will definitely be at Nottingham Green out in western Henrico,” said Avula, who is also the Health Director in Henrico County. “And then we're finalizing one other neighborhood. And then depending on what the demand and interest is in some of our other public housing or other low income communities here around the city, we'll be continuing to set those up.”
Avula said as of Thursday, there have been 339 cases of COVID-19 in Richmond and 15 deaths. He said the disproportionate impact of the virus on the African-American community continues to be shown in the racial breakdown of the data, a trend that has appeared nationwide.
“Of the 339 cases, 58% of those right now are African-American…14 out of our 15 individuals who have passed away here in the city are African-American,” said Avula. “And I think it just underscores the need for us to continue our efforts to get testing to our predominantly minority communities.”
Avula added in the next few weeks he would like to help support more sustained testing at safety net clinics.
“So, our free clinics, our federally qualified health centers, have all been reaching out over the last few weeks asking, ‘When can we get access to testing? We'd love to be able to provide testing to our underinsured individuals’,” said Avula, who added there are a few things on the horizon that will make that possible.
Avula said the first thing is that the federal government said there will be a large delivery of test swab kits next week and his plan is to divvy that out to those facilities to help with testing.
“The other thing we're anticipating — right now we're hearing with the CDC, that they're actually looking at testing procedures that people can administer to themselves,” explained Avula. “So, they would be handed a swab, they would do a self-swab under the watch of a healthcare provider.”
Avula said the benefit of this option would mean there would be less of a strain on personal protective equipment (PPE) needs as healthcare providers would be able to keep their distance during a self-administered test.
Avula said the benefit of being able to have more testing options available is that it will allow the health department to shift its focus to ramping up contact tracing efforts.
“Because, we've all been hearing that part of our city and our community's pathway to opening back up is having the resource of effective and aggressive contact tracing,” said Avula. “The ability to follow up with every positive case, to figure out who their contacts are, make sure they're isolated and quarantined and get those folks tested.”
Avula said there is a lot of work being done at the state level to define what the contact tracing model will be and to increase the number of contact tracers in the state by between 1200 to 1500.
“The state is very clear about its commitment and the need to ramp up its ability to do contract tracing and how crucial it is to have that in place as we begin to open up,” said Avula.
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.