Drive-through coronavirus testing centers in Hartford have been active for nearly two months, but many North End residents don’t have cars or rely on public transportation to get around. And other barriers, like a lack of health insurance or a doctor’s referral prevented others from getting tested for the disease.
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But with those barriers removed, hundreds of people registered to get tested for COVID-19 for the first time at a mobile testing site in the parking lot of Phillips Health Center on Main Street. The mobile testing site is a collaboration among Hartford HealthCare, Phillips Metropolitan C.M.E. Church, Hartford Communities That Care, and the Community Safety Coalition.
Sasa Harriott is a registered nurse who runs Harriott Home Health Services. Her staff has registered people for testing and gone into homes to treat COVID-positive patients.
“Our folks didn’t know where they can go and get tested, how can they get a test while they’re in isolation, while they’re being told to stay home,” Harriott said. “They’re being told that black people are dying more.”
Harriott said the lack of access to testing and unclear information have meant that many of the city’s residents of color haven’t gotten tested.
“People want advice that they can, one, understand, and two, trust. If you can’t understand what you’re hearing and you can’t trust it, then it’s really not serving its purpose for our community,” Harriott said.
Ada Suarez is a social worker who came in the morning to get tested and then planned to spend her afternoon spreading the word in the neighborhood about the free testing.
“My immune system is compromised and I need to make sure, number one, that I don’t have it, that I’m not a carrier and that I’m OK,” Suarez said. “And also in this community, we have a lot of African American and Latino [people]. I want them to understand … the importance of getting this test.”
Phillips Metropolitan Church has had to bury members of its congregation who’ve died from the coronavirus.
“Having lost members to this virus has actually made it more real for our congregation that this is not just a myth,” said Pastor Jeremy Williams, “it’s not something that’s happening in other communities, but it’s happening to our people.”
The origins of the spread of coronavirus within the state have been linked to Fairfield County’s suburban, affluent areas, which are commuter communities for New York City. State data from the Department of Health shows that Hartford County now has the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in the state, as fatalities in cities with significant Black and brown populations have sharply increased. According to UConn’s Health Disparities Institute, 1.4 times more Black residents have succumbed to COVID-19-associated complications in Connecticut than white residents, relative to the respective populations.
“We knew that we needed a site in our community where people could walk and come get tested, where people have access to health care. This is just the first layer of what needs to be done,” said state Sen. Doug McCrory. “If we just test and do nothing else afterwards, we’re continuing the health disparities … I’m just sick of seeing my people dying.”
McCrory said people in the community have to be able to trust and have faith in elected officials, clergy and others as leaders to “respond in a strong way” by consistently and effectively addressing the needs of the community.
By the end of the day, nearly 300 people were tested. Though this was a one-day event, McCrory said the community coalition is looking to station the mobile testing site at Phillips Health Center on a weekly basis, if not multiple times per week.
“We are at an impasse. This pandemic has highlighted so many of the social ills that exist in our community, whether it’s health care, whether it’s education, whether it’s a food desert,” McCrory said. “We can start anew. We can’t go back to where we were. We have to do better.”