Chesapeake free COVID-19 testing aims to encourage participation, fill gaps in health care for minorities


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — A collaboration among the Urban League of Hampton Roads, Chesapeake Regional Medical Center and the Chesapeake Health Department Friday targeted underserved communities.

They offered free COVID testing at MacDonald Manor, an affordable community run by Chesapeake Urban Redevelopment and Housing.

The commonwealth’s Chief Diversity Officer Janice Underwood says this type of event is imperative for people who have limited access to health care.

“That’s really because of institutionalized racism. A lot of people don’t want to say that out loud, but we’re not afraid to talk about it. We want to have that uncomfortable conversation,” Underwood said.

Anita Arellano, who took advantage of the free clinic, has a husband whose immune system is compromised. She grocery shops for three generations.

“There’s nine of us in the household,” she said. “I thought it was more important for me ’cause I’m in the stores.”

People also got food from the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, information on COVID-19 from the health department, and offers on discounted internet service from Cox.

“We haven’t been as successful as we’d like to be, we’ve not made as large of an effort to talk with minority communities,” said Chesapeake Health Department Director Dr. Nancy Welch.

“There’s probably a lot of people who are coming out here [who] may not bother to go on their own,” said MacDonald resident Deborah Martin of the free testing.

“This will be a prolonged effort. What’s beautiful about this event is obviously that nobody has to pay for it. You’re getting your test and that financial barrier is being removed,”said Reese Jackson, CEO of Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.

Another cultural consideration: the Virginia National Guard had no presence, as it had last week in Accomack County and at other recent testing events. The head of the Urban League says that’s by design.

“In communities such as this if the National Guard rolls in, people in uniform, it creates a level of anxiety that would be such that people wouldn’t come out and get tested.”

The organizers want this to be a model for similar events. The next one is slated for Deep Creek later this month with an exact date to be announced.

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