City expands walk-up COVID-19 testing to underserved neighborhoods

Updated: May. 4, 2020 at 10:30 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Starting Tuesday, New Hope Baptist Church will offer free testing for COVID-19. It's one of the latest "non-traditional" sites popping up in the city.

The location was chosen for a reason.

"It was not just a concern for the congregation, it was a concern for the community, at large," said Pastor Jamal Weathersby.

Weathersby is pastor of the 1,000-member congregation in Central City. It's an area he says lacked testing resources.

"Especially since many of the residents here pretty much travel by foot, by bus," said Weathersby.

Plus, Weathersby says covid hit his congregation hard.

"My chairman of deacons had it, my minister of music had it, my administrative assistant had it, and maybe about 30 people. And I had it," Weathersby said.

The church's feeding program director also contracted the virus and died from the disease.

Weathersby petitioned the city council for a testing site at his church.

Council President Helena Moreno says they picked the location after what the pastor told her.

“This is something we need. I have been hearing from people in this area who said they couldn’t get to the other testing sites, that they can’t get to the urgent care. Can’t we bring testing here?” recalled Moreno.

Moreno says a city partnership with Ochsner helps to ensure testing accessibility for everyone by offering free, walk-up sites in more neighborhoods.

"I can tell you, the reception has been unbelievable," Moreno said.

She says the site in Mid-City at Comiskey Park had to shut down early after going through all of the 250 tests allotted for the day by 1 p.m.

"We try to identify areas where there are certain focus points, areas where people are naturally drawn, congregate," explained Dr. Yvens Laborde, M.D. Laborde is a doctor of internal medicine and Medical Director of Global Health Education at Ochsner Health Center. He has also been critically involved with mobile testing, placing an emphasis on caring for the community as a whole.

"Global health is local health," Laborde said.

Laborde says testing is imperative, referring to a concept in medicine.

"You can't manage what you can't measure," said Laborde. "So if it can't be tested, there's no way we can effectively mitigate and manage the propagation of the virus."

By testing to learn the status of as many individuals as possible, Laborde says they're able to identify those actively infected, track them, slow the spread and pinpoint hot spots.

"In essence, we can't really move forward, we can't really mitigate and manage the disease overtime, if we don't actually know who is positive and who is not," Laborde explained.

Moreno says more sites will open up next week-- in Treme and New Orleans East.

It’s not yet available, but officials say antibody testing will soon become just as important to determine how much of the population has had the virus.

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