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Richmond Providing Coronavirus Testing To Those With Barriers To Access

man with a face mask being swabbed by two medical workers wearing blue gowns
Henrico County resident Jamie Gaiters being tested for coronavirus near Creighton Court on Tuesday. (Photo: Roberto Roldan/VPM News)

Jamie Gaiters, a resident of Eastern Henrico, said he received a letter from the Richmond City Health District in early April saying a family member had tested positive for the COVID-19 disease. 

Wanting to get tested himself, Gaiters then made an appointment at BetterMed. But he didn’t end up going to the appointment after learning they didn’t accept Medicaid, only Medicare.

“Nobody would take Medicaid,” Gaiters said. “They really should, because everybody doesn’t have a job or everybody doesn’t have regular insurance."

Instead, Gaiters quarantined himself inside his home for two weeks until the Richmond Health Department started opening up free testing sites in low-income neighborhoods. On Tuesday, he finally got tested at a site in a shopping center parking lot near Creighton Court.

“It’s a little uncomfortable,” Gaiters said of the procedure that requires a health professional to stick a swab into your nose. “But for the sake of life, it’s nothing.”

The City of Richmond and the Richmond Health Department began free pop-up testing after new data showed people of color in Richmond are disproportionately dying from the coronavirus disease. So far, 13 out of the 14 people who have died in the city have been African American.

After visiting the test site near Creighton Court on Tuesday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said providing equitable access to testing is key for combating the disease.

“This is an intentional attempt to ensure that every individual possible, particularly those who are under-resourced or uninsured, have access to the same testing as anyone else,” Stoney said. 

Pop-up testing in low-income areas began last week with sites at Woodman West Apartments in Henrico County and the Southwood neighborhood on Richmond’s south side. Out of 69 people tested in Southwood, 12 tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Danny Avula, head of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, said these testing sites are some of the few places people who are uninsured or on government healthcare can get screened.

Avula said the testing sites are also an important visual reminder that the disease isn’t an abstract threat.

“It allows people to understand that this is happening in our community and we need to stay at home, wash our hands and wear our masks when we go out,” he said. “We need to adhere to those guidelines more closely than we might otherwise when it’s an ‘out there’ issue.”

In addition to testing, people who come to the pop-up testing sites can get information about the disease as well as access to masks and hand sanitizer. Healthcare workers are also on hand to help the uninsured navigate healthcare if needed.

Governor Ralph Northam recently announced that his administration would waive all Medicaid co-pays for COVID-19 related testing and treatment. Still, access to private testing for Medicaid patients remains scant, Avula said.

The Richmond Health Department will hold another pop-up testing event in Gilpin Court public housing development on Thursday. Anyone wanting to get tested must register by calling (804)205- 3501. 

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