COVID-19 Testing Hits the Road in West Virginia

Project teams travel in specially equipped vans to remote areas where COVID-19 infections are predicted to rise. Photo courtesy of WVCTSI communications staff.

Project teams travel in specially equipped vans to remote areas where COVID-19 infections are predicted to rise. Photo courtesy of WVCTSI communications staff.

Reaching Communities of Color

As rural they began this testing initiative, the researchers realized they needed to be more creative to boost COVID-19 testing rates in West Virginia’s communities of color, especially among African Americans, who make up 3% to 4% of West Virginia’s population.

Nationally, African Americans have been infected at higher rates and experienced worse outcomes than whites.4 African Americans who live in small metro or rural areas are more likely to die of COVID-19 than those who live in urban areas.5.6 On top of the common barriers to COVID-19 testing in rural areas, African American communities often confront challenges related to racism, discrimination, and distrust of government and medical systems because of historic wrongs.7 As a result, places in West Virginia with a higher percentage of African Americans have testing rates six times lower than the state average.6

“African Americans face greater barriers to testing and have long been underserved by the healthcare system,” Hodder explained. “We provide testing for everyone, but with RADx-UP funding, we were able to obtain a dedicated mobile van to meet the testing needs of communities of color in remote areas of five counties.”

As part of their efforts to boost testing rates for rural communities of color, the researchers reached out to an organization with strong ties in the communities.

“We started working with the Partnership of African American Churches [PAAC], ”Whanger said. “PAAC helped us identify prime community locations to use as test sites.” PAAC also advises the team on reaching communities of color through well-networked social institutions.

Whanger explained, “We set up rotating teams of trained, culturally competent staff who meet with African Americans where they are — churches, schools, shopping centers, colleges, social services offices — any place where community members get together.”

The mobile van goes out a few days per week to offer testing. As of January 2022 — a few months after the main mobile testing project rolled out — 1,900 tests had been done in communities of color. About 3% were positive for SARS-CoV-2. Hodder reported that more people were seeking tests when viral variants were spreading and more people were getting sick. The study team also began a home testing study that distributed testing kits to African American households.

Importantly, the team members have been learning about barriers to testing and answering people’s questions. Team members are building relationships with African American communities.

“It comes down to earning trust,” Hodder said. “We’re working hard to build trust, and I believe we’re making progress.”

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