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Northeast Ohio's Community Health Centers Ramping Up COVID-19 Testing

Northeast Ohio’s community health centers are preparing to ramp up coronavirus testing efforts, with a focus on minority and high-risk populations.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced in his Thursday press conference a strategy to address racial disparities in coronavirus prevention, including expanded COVID-19 testing capacity. Neighborhood Family Practice (NFP) in Cleveland is working with other health centers in Cuyahoga, Summit and Lorain counties to come up with plans for addressing virus response needs in communities that typically distrust the healthcare system.

“We need to be able to work with community partners to get testing out into locations where people will feel comfortable,” said NFP President and CEO Jean Polster. “But we also will be exploring as a group of community health centers whether or not we should have large mobile testing stations.”

Some community health centers have already been testing for a few weeks, Polster said, including NF, where limited testing for current patients program began a few weeks ago. But federal funding was distributed a week ago to officially expand testing in hard-to-reach communities, she said.

“What we’re doing right now is rapidly scaling up our capabilities with the federal funding we received, and working very, very closely with the governor and his health officials,” Polster said.

NFP administered about 40 tests for COVID-19 last week, Polster said, but the center is currently preparing to increase that capacity.

“Now that testing is more available, we’re moving more into a public health mode, where you want to look and see if you can determine where there’s asymptomatic spread going on,” she said.

The center will work with other trusted community partners get resources to groups that haven’t been included in previous testing, Polster said, including local refugee populations. The goal is to address the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has on minorities and to help protect people with chronic illnesses who may be susceptible.

“We’re a trusted resource in the community,” she said. “How can we extend that capability so that we can get into communities that often distrust regular healthcare and make sure that they’re getting tested and staying safe?”

At the same time, NFP will continue to test those who are symptomatic, Polster said, and work to get them results quickly so they can take the proper next steps, if needed.

“Many of the folks that are most impacted by the virus are the essential workers,” Polster said. “And that’s a lot of who community health centers see as their patients.”

NFP is collaborating with hospitals and other health centers to expand testing without overlap, Polster said. More details will be available next week.

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