David M. Carlisle, MD, PHD
Mark Ridley-Thomas (File Photo)

As the COVID-19 pandemic begins a resurgence across the nation, efforts continue to be made to address the disparities in underserved communities in South Los Angeles. According to a report issued by the Los Angeles County COVID-19 testing site at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU) in Willowbrook, high-risk groups in under-resourced settings will engage in testing for COVID-19 when systemic barriers are removed, outreach is more targeted and testing access is made easier for them.

“Since African-Americans have been dying at a far greater than the average rate due to COVID-19, even though their infection rate is about average, testing becomes critical,” stated Dr. David M. Carlisle, president and CEO, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. “We need to have ready access to COVID-19 testing to identify those who are infected as early as possible to get them the care they need to help reduce mortality.

“We also conducted culturally appropriate outreach and ran public service announcements advertising the site.”
The report was conducted on site with 27,133 COVID-19 tests, between April 8 and June 14, 2020. To date, the site has performed over

32,000 tests and has averaged over 700 tests per day in June. Other information includes:

•African American (15%) and Latinx (71%) community members comprised 86% of those tested

•Among those who tested positive, over 32% did not have a primary care doctor, 3% were in need of housing resources, and 2% were referred for immediate mental health support. All were given referrals for additional assistance

•Despite a significant public awareness campaign and daily news coverage, some community members still held misperceptions and fears about testing, including the belief that they would have to pay for testing, they would be ineligible for testing if they didn’t have insurance and, among those who are undocumented, that they would be deported

“For instance, even though we are an appointment-based, drive-through testing site, we allowed same-day appointments and walk-ups,” stated Dr. Carlisle. “A substantial number of our individuals tested have been same-days and walk-ups.”

“This report reveals how the partnerships between the county and other community-based organizations and institutions, such as CDU can help bridge the gap between the county and the community,” stated Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “This report helps to not just diagnosis this issue by identifying cultural barriers, but also addresses various methods to how information is being communicated and the platforms that could be utilized to disseminate it.”

One issue Dr. Carlisle pointed out as a big concern in the report was the lack of access to primary care. He stated that one of the benefits besides coming out and being tested is getting information on access to healthcare.

“Over 30 percent of the people who tested positive at our site had no ‘medical home,’” stated Dr. Carlisle. “This means they had no regular access to one physician or medical facility who knew this person and their medical history and thus, could provide needed follow-up care.

“We were fortunate to be able to refer these individuals to the Martin Luther King Outpatient Center. But we need more access to health services and more medical providers in under-resourced communities.

He added, “We also found a lack of access to other basic social service needs, in addition to lack of access to medical care, including housing resources and mental health services.”

“This report highlights the intensive work that remains to be done to expand access to testing in a way that acknowledges and begins to address the structural barriers that have led to disproportionate rates of infection and mortality from COVID-19 in our communities of color, notably an alarming positivity rate in the Latinx community,” said Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. “The Department is committed to testing equity and is implementing a multi-faceted outreach strategy in concert with trusted community partners to close the disparity gap and combat the spread of COVID disease.”

When asked if the community should get tested, even if they don’t have any symptoms, Dr. Carlisle stated it’s still vital to know otherwise.

“People without symptoms should get tested because of our current awareness of both asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 as well as people who are ‘pre-symptomatic,’ both of whom can transmit infections,” stated Dr. Carlisle. “The only way for them to be aware of their risk, the risk to others, and therefore their need to self-quarantine is by getting a test when they don’t have symptoms.

“This is especially important for individuals with recent known or suspected exposure to someone with COVID-19. This includes those who may have been in high risk settings, including crowds during demonstrations or rallies among people who were not wearing masks.

“Testing in those without symptoms is also important for those who work in or have been in high-risk settings for dissemination of the infection, such as meat processing plants, jails and prisons, or in settings which there are populations at risk for severe disease, such as long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and residential treatment facilities.”

“The Los Angeles County Fire Department is extremely grateful for the partnership with Charles R. Drew University and the MLK Outpatient Center,” said Chief Daryl Osby, Los Angeles County Fire Department. “The testing site report from CDU demonstrates that opening a site in South Los Angeles was critical to the mission of insuring access to COVID-19 testing for the some of the most vulnerable and underserved members of our community. “

“We know long after this virus is gone, the damage will remain,” stated Ridley-Thomas. “I want to make clear; we are here for you. We will connect you to the right resources and information you need. But we ask that you reach out in the way that you can.

“We will get through this together, and emerge stronger together.”

While the CDU site does take walk-ups and same-day appointments, to make a testing appointment at the CDU site, or any county testing site, register at this website: https://covid19.lacounty.gov/testing/.

For more information, visit http://www.cdrewu.edu/, and follow CDU on Facebook, Twitter (@cdrewu), and Instagram (@charlesrdrewu).