Testing for COVID-19 seems ubiquitous these days, but how many folks from low-income neighborhoods have taken advantage of it?
That’s a question Marianna Baum and a team at FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work want to answer. With as many as a million people per day currently submitting to free testing across the country, one might expect that individuals from all economic strata have come forward in proportional measure. But less-than-perfect data—positives are reported by zip code but not the actual number of residents in each who are tested—and Baum’s own observations have pushed her to explore potential barriers to testing.
Are people without cars, for example, getting to the drive-through testing facilities in South Florida, and would they remain in line when confronted with hours-long waits in the sun?
“That’s just one really obvious barrier,” says Baum, who adds that walk-up testing sites exist in Miami-Dade County but are too few for the size of the population. “We need to talk to the community leaders to see what they perceive as barriers and how to overcome them.”
What is known: Death rates attributable to COVID-19 among Latinos and Blacks are several times higher than among whites.
The team is collaborating with the Green Family Foundation Neighborhood Health Education Learning Program run by the Wertheim College of Medicine. The program has longstanding connections within the study’s target communities, among them the grassroots leaders—church pastors, individuals who run community organizations and others in contact with sizeable numbers of people the study hopes to reach—whose help Baum needs. They will be consulted about possible barriers to testing and, critically, asked to encourage others’ participation at temporary testing sites associated with the study. The facilities will be set up by the publicly funded Borinquen Medical Centers in locations such as church parking lots and near other gathering spaces.
The plan is to test as many as 200 people per week at a given location. Samples will be processed in the campus-based clinical lab that Baum manages, and results will be available to tested individuals within 24 hours at an electronic portal. Importantly, participants will complete questionnaires (in English, Spanish or Creole) that ask if they had previously sought testing and, if not, what specifically stopped them from doing so.
Baum points out that many of those she seeks to reach work in low-wage jobs, such as grocery bagger and fast-food worker, that put them in close proximity to the general public. “So if they’re infected, everybody else will get infected,” she says. “It’s important that all segments of the population are tested and quarantined if infected and that we contact trace.”
Another goal is to evaluate the success of community leaders’ efforts to encourage testing. That information will inform the drafting of strategies to promote vaccination in the future. After all, Baum explains, “We can have the best vaccine in the world, but if people don’t use it, it will not help.”
The research is funded with a grant from the National Institutes of Health and will contribute to a multicenter study.