Throughout the spring, the easiest way for many Florida residents to get tested for COVID-19 was by rolling down the window at one of dozens of drive-through testing sites around the state, but that's not to say it was easy: many drive-through sites have routinely had hours-long wait times.
But as the state makes an effort to ramp up testing in order to slow a rapidly-growing outbreak, a handful of walk-up locations have opened as well.
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Last month, a walk-up testing site opened in the historic Sistrunk neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale, named for Dr. James Sistrunk, a pioneering Black doctor whose clinic became a lifeline for Black patients in the late 1930s. Germaine Smith-Baugh, president and CEO of the Urban League of Broward County, helped to get the Sistrunk site up and running to make sure people could get tested for COVID-19, even if they don't have access to a car, or the ability to drive. She spoke with WLRN's Veronica Zaragovia.
For more information about walk-up testing for COVID-19, go to the bottom of this post.
WLRN: Why was it so important to push for a walk-up testing clinic?
GERMAINE SMITH-BAUGH: So what I knew is that many of our residents that may be challenged in the area of health, they may not have a medical home to go to that they would be able to call, for example, their primary doctor and say, 'I really want to come in and get a test.' And then the other challenge being that of transportation. So it just really seemed to me to be a logical course of action to say, how do we create equity and access? And that's really where we start from every day at the Urban League. Where is the equity in what it is that is being done? How do we create more access and opportunity for people to be able to make decisions for themselves?
How is the testing going? Are more people getting tested since the walk-up site opened?
There've been over 6,000 tests done at the Urban League alone. The idea that they are able to be tested in their own community, and when I say their own community, meaning that it is in their backyard, and people are grateful, they want to be able to address this issue, if by any chance they do test positive, or if they test negative at least have that relief that they can continue, you know, with their life activities.
Tell us what are the health disparities of this community in Fort Lauderdale?
We can't think about health outside of the social determinants of health. So although pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, sickle cell anemia, and other chronic diseases clearly play a very important role in the impact that COVID-19 had and have been, has been having on the Black community. In addition, you also have to consider the economics of many of these communities. Many African Americans are working those front-line jobs, those essential worker jobs, so they didn't have the option to quarantine at home and still be able to receive their pay and move forward, you know, from a financial perspective. So they had to get on public transportation, all of these other factors related to health. So the multi-generational housing and the homes in which people live, that's a housing issue around affordability of housing. That's why we may have more generations living in a home. And then in many communities, the access to healthy food, the access to things that would make living within communities a more healthy experience, does not necessarily exist in communities of high poverty.
When we think about Fort Lauderdale, we might think about Las Olas or the high rises in downtown. What are people not seeing by not visiting the Sistrunk neighborhood?
It is a historic Black community within Fort Lauderdale. It's a hand's throw away from downtown Fort Lauderdale. Many people drive around it. They might even drive through it, but folks don't stop. And when I think about the Sistrunk community, it's one of resilience. It's one that is made up of individuals who know how to survive, they know how to move forward given the resources that they have, but it is also a community that has been challenged by economic issues, whether it's small business investment, whether it is not having anchor institutions like grocery stores. It does have high poverty.
I recall listening to you speak on the opening of the site in April via livestream, and it was a powerful speech of your personal story. Can you please share with our listeners again what you told the public then?
So when we talked about the walk-up site, it's because my family would have needed the walk-up site. We did not have transportation that would have allowed us to do a drive through. So that might not be my experience today, with three cars in the driveway, but I would have been that little girl who would have needed that option for her family, and I think if we just go to the humanistic side of who we are and being able to create equity and access and justice just from a human perspective, that we will really be coming up with ways that would really be able to address the needs in our community. And, and for me, that's just basically knowing my own story and being able to share that with other people.
Click here for testing sites in Monroe County.
Miami-Dade County has a list of sites here.
For Broward, visit this site for a list.
Here, you'll find a list of Palm Beach County sites.