coronavirus testing

Focus Needed on Low-Income Areas as Virginia Loosens Testing Requirements

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Virginia is now up to 5,000 tests a day and has enough personal protective equipment for the time being, according to state officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines for how COVID-19 tests can be done, meaning more can be conducted in a regular doctor’s office. In some situations, patients can even swab themselves as they stay 6 feet away from the health care provider.

With more testing available, troubling statistics are appearing.

Neighborhood Health, a non-profit primary care practice that serves the low-income communities in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County, operates four parking lot COVID-19 testing sites.

“We’ve been seeing 50%, or even more, closer to 55%, of our patients test positive out of the approximately 700 tests we’ve done so far. That is much higher than the rates you are seeing more broadly,” said Dr. Basim Khan, executive director of the organization. 

Coronavirus Testing Sites in DC, Maryland & Virginia

Credit: Anisa Holmes / NBC Washington

Khan said their patients — most of them Hispanic — are especially hard hit by coronavirus because of their work. Many cleaners, construction workers, grocery store employees, and other essential workers. For them, there is no ability to work at home and many must take public transportation. 

Once the virus hits one person, it can spread rapidly inside apartments with crowded living conditions where it’s often impossible to isolate.

Khan suggested using empty hotel rooms might be one solution to this.

“We’ve seen incredible spread within families where one family member or one household member gets sick, and then it spreads to a whole lot of other people. So they’re just at a much higher risk of getting infected and being impacted more broadly because of their economic situation,” Khan said.

With Virginia’s coronavirus cases still on the rise, Khan said government officials must put an even greater focus on testing and trying to control the virus in low-income areas. 

Arlington County has helped find a hotel for one resident. 

“I just don’t think we're going to get this under control unless we really focus in on underserved communities,” Khan said.

The Virginia Department of Health includes probable cases in its county-level data. For the state total NBC Washington is only including confirmed cases.

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