Although a much higher percentage of Black people die from COVID-19 than whites, many of Louisiana’s Black residents remain reluctant to be tested for the virus. Baton Rouge scientists and health organizations plan to change that thanks to new funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Pennington Biomedical Research Center researchers said churches, schools, community centers, and clinics in Black communities are key to overcoming reluctance and increasing the number of residents tested.
“The new, more dangerous variants of COVID-19 and the need to distribute vaccines fairly make it all the more urgent that we do a better job of testing in underserved Black communities,” said John Kirwan, Ph.D, executive director of Pennington. “We think more people may be willing to undergo tests, and later get vaccinated, if they can do so in places that are familiar and where they feel most comfortable.”
Their plan is to expand COVID-19 testing to 16 sites within or near communities most heavily populated by Black residents. Testing will begin Feb. 10 and participants must be at least 18, able to speak and understand English, and give their permission to participate.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston-Broome said encouraging Black residents to get tested and vaccinated will also require overcoming a distrust of health studies and the health system.
“The coronavirus has exposed, and continues to expose, the gap in access to health care that divides our city, parish, state and country,” Broome said. “Increasing testing in Louisiana’s Black communities is vitally important to understanding and slowing the virus’s spread. The data the scientists collect will also help us understand the role health disparities play in the coronavirus’s impact on our residents.”
Scientists will conduct rapid testing at churches, schools, clinics and community centers in the 70805, 70807, 70811, 70812, and 70814 zip codes. There, researchers will collect saliva samples from 2,000 adults along with information on their age, sex, race, socioeconomic status and other information. The data will help identify how those factors relate to testing rates.
“We have some ideas about why people are not getting tested. Some people may not have a way to get to a testing site. Others may not be able to take time off from work. Still others may have issues finding childcare,” said Peter Katzmarzyk, Ph.D, Pennington Biomedical associate executive director for population and public health science. “We’re going to ask members of our Black communities what they think the barriers are to testing and what approaches they think would be best to get more people tested.“
Starting on Feb. 10, free covid-19 testing will be offered 8am to 4pm weekdays and 8am to noon on Saturdays. IDs are required, however, insurance and registration are not. Results are given confidentially to participants within 2-3 days.
Testing locations are: LSU Health Baton Rouge North Clinic, 5439 Airline Highway; Beacon Light Baptist Church, 7513 Prescott Road; Jewel J. Newman Community Center, 2013 Central Road; Charles R. Kelly Community Center, 3535 Riley Street; Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, 9700 Scenic Highway; Louisiana Leadership Institute, 5763 Hooper Road; Greenwell Springs Road Regional Branch Library, 11300 Greenwell Springs Road; Living Faith Christian Center, 6375 Winbourne Ave.; S.E. Mackey Center, 6534 Ford St.; Scotlandville Parkway Park, 3200 Harding Blvd.; and North Sherwood Forest Community Park, 3140 N. Sherwood Forest Drive. More will be added as the project gains momentum.
The testing is expected to last through April.
Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center secured the $1.8 million grant to conduct the testing and research. They are partnering with HealthyBR, a collaboration among Baton Rouge’s 73 top health and human services organizations and hospital systems, to achieve the project’s goals.
Updated test site information will be posted at www.GeauxGetTested.org