Black and Latino Churches Offer Coronavirus Testing Along With Prayers and Hope

At Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Brooklyn last month, Enrique Ortiz was given a coronavirus test. Churches around New York City are hosting free testing sessions.

Ten days in May. Twenty-four churches around New York City. Nearly 20,000 coronavirus tests.

Over the past few weeks, churches serving communities of color have been transformed overnight into mini-clinics offering free coronavirus tests to all comers. The initiative, a partnership of the churches, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office and Northwell Health, is an effort to expand testing among black and Hispanic citizens, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Black and Latino New Yorkers have succumbed to Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, at twice the rate of whites, a result of entrenched economic and health disparities, denser housing and a higher risk of exposure on the job.

Participants were asked to preregister by phone, but walk-ins were accommodated so long as they lined up six feet apart and wore masks. Among those who sought testing on a cool, sunny Wednesday in May were two teenage brothers who recently went to a hospital to take home their 50-year-old father, only to find he had died of the virus.

“We were expecting him to be released and were texting with him,” said one brother, who identified himself only as Angel.

“Then he stopped responding.”

A 61-year-old woman said she had taken the subway to work every day throughout the pandemic, but was waking in the middle of the night, short of breath. Another woman wanted a clean bill of health, so she could go to New Jersey to visit her 85-year-old mother; another wanted to know if it was safe for her to go back to work.

Results are now in from the first round of testing at the 24 churches. Of 1,000 residents who had symptoms and sought diagnostic testing, nearly 9 percent were positive for the coronavirus.

Of the 18,000 residents who underwent antibody testing, nearly one in three showed evidence of past exposure to the coronavirus.

An additional round of testing at churches in New York City, the Hudson Valley and on Long Island started June 1 and will continue through June 19. The effort has been so successful that it may continue this summer.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Roni Caryn Rabin