A free COVID-19 testing site in northeast Wichita aims to serve as many as 2,500 residents this month.
A team of nurses from the nonprofit HealthCore Clinic collected around 200 samples a day in the site’s first week. A total of 787 people were tested — no screening and no insurance required.
“With the limited testing that we’ve had in the area, I’m not surprised at all,” nursing manager Dallas Klinkner said of the turnout.
Anyone wanting to get tested should get to the site a couple of hours before it opens at 2 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and expect about a two-hour wait time.
The testing itself, though, takes about 12 minutes, estimates HealthCore CEO Teresa Lovelady: Cars are directed into two lines, where staff and volunteers collect demographic details and insurance information, if any, before nurses take a nasal swab to be sent for testing at Quest Diagnostics, which donated the tests.
Once a sample is collected, a nurse explains what happens once results are in: If a test is negative, no further action is needed; if it’s positive, HealthCore will call to notify a patient and help connect him or her with treatment services, if needed.
Then, Klinkner explains, “You’re on your way.”
Wichita Mayor @BWhippleKS and Councilman @BJohnsonICT received COVID-19 tests on camera to share with Wichitans how easy it is to get tested and what to expect at our mobile testing site at the WSU Metroplex. We're so thankful for their support and leadership! #GetTested pic.twitter.com/0wmAfcGfoq
— HealthCore Clinic (@HealthCoreICT) May 18, 2020
‘Doing the best we can’
The testing site opened last week as Kansas began to slowly reopen after six weeks under stay-at-home restrictions, despite not reaching the level of testing many health experts recommend to reopen.
“We knew that this was extremely important because … as we try to get our lives back to normal and we try to go back to work and, and we struggle with kind of this new pandemic and not quite knowing what's going on and the fears around the coronavirus and COVID-19, that we wanted to provide an opportunity in our community for anyone to get tested,” Lovelady said, “whether they had symptoms or they were just afraid or they just wanted to come out and get answers to questions.”
Lovelady acknowledges it would have been better to have widespread testing available earlier in the pandemic, but says resources and information were limited.
“We could say, ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda,’” she said. “I can tell you again, leading from the front lines, there was so much information coming out so quickly and information was changing on a daily basis. … It was very difficult to waddle through what you really needed to make the decisions needed to best create the systems and processes to protect the health of our community.
“We're doing the best we can with where we are right now.”
The Sedgwick County Health Department offers free public testing at several sites around Wichita, but people need to be screened first and meet certain criteria to qualify for a test, such as symptoms and exposure. There aren’t enough tests to serve everyone who wants one.
“Truly there was a breakdown in … the supply systems to really get us the items that we needed to have a coordinated response,” Lovelady said.
A first step
HealthCore’s testing site is just up the road from its clinic on 21st Street, near Wichita State University, in a traditionally African-American neighborhood.
It’s part of a larger effort to increase access to testing among African-American residents, who have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus: Black Kansans are seven times as likely to die from COVID-19 as white Kansans.
“The infection rates are higher and the death rates are higher,” Lovelady said, “and it's our commitment to the community to make certain that we get the data, and we provide a response that's appropriate and that we're able to provide the education and information so that people can get tested and get the support that they need.”
Of those who got tested the first week the site was open, 35% were African American, according to the data HealthCore gathered. About 60% were white and about 10% were Latino. Lovelady says the clinic is working with the county to conduct more targeted testing at certain sites in the 67214 area code.
City Council District 1 representative Brandon Johnson says the testing site is a “first step” in addressing the racial disparity in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
“Accessibility is key,” he said. “What makes this most accessible is not only the location at 29th and Oliver … But the other thing is HealthCore did a great job at removing barriers. You don’t have to have symptoms. You don’t have to have insurance.”
He, along with the newly formed Wichita Black Alliance, are asking Sedgwick County — which is administering $90 million in federal funds for coronavirus-related aid — to continue to increase access to testing and personal protective equipment among African-American residents, and to increase its media budget to better communicate what services are available.
“We’ve gotta get that communication out to the black and brown community so that they can receive testing that is commensurate with other people populations here in Sedgwick County,” Baptist Calvary Church pastor LaMont Holder told county leaders in a call last week.
Johnson said he’d like to see testing expanded to other community clinics and neighborhoods.
“If they're doing 150 to 200 a day here, and this is one space, we could probably do that everywhere at our community clinics,” he said. “So step one is just kind of showing the demand and the need is real. Step two would be putting into action to make this accessible for everyone.”
And as the state reopens while new cases are still on the rise, Lovelady says any increase in testing protects the greater public health.
“If you feel like you've been exposed, you can immediately know that you're positive,” she said, “so that then we can go into some more mitigation efforts and isolation and contact tracing and try to go there so we can isolate the virus in a way that we can best protect the protect the overall health of the community.”