Pennsylvania Capital-Star: Pa. Rep. Dwight Evans calls for targeted coronavirus testing efforts in African American communities

By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, is calling on local and state government officials to ensure coronavirus testing efforts are reaching Pennsylvania’s vulnerable African American community.

The congressman addressed his concerns in a letter to Mayor Jim Kenney and Gov. Tom Wolf.

“The high diagnosis and death rate from the coronavirus have revealed just how devastating the crisis has been to Black, brown and poor communities,” Evans wrote in a letter to Mayor Jim Kenney and Gov. Tom Wolf.

“I am deeply concerned that this lack of access to testing will continue to put African Americans at risk of death from coronavirus.”

Evans wants the mayor and governor to develop a strategy for reaching out to and testing the African-American community.

He also wants the mayor and the governor to include in the strategy the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, a group of volunteers that has been providing free coronavirus testing at Black churches and in predominantly Black neighborhoods, and provide funding to support their efforts.

“We appreciate the Congressman’s concerns and look forward to further conversations with him on this,” Kenney spokesman Mike Dunn said in an e-mailed statement.

Wolf has established the COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity.

He called for more robust, free accessible testing for minority and vulnerable populations during a recent press call about the Task Force.

“All Pennsylvanians deserve the same access to testing and treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wolf said.

“That’s regardless of race, income, location and every other factor.”

Wolf said providing information about testing locations to minority communities is key to making sure testing is accessible to everyone.

Evans commended Wolf for establishing the task force, but said officials must do more to support the work being done at the grassroots level.

Evans’ concerns come after a study by Drexel University epidemiologist Usama Bilal found that Philadelphians living in higher-income neighborhoods have been tested for the novel coronavirus six times more frequently than those living in lower-income neighborhoods.

Dr. Ala Stanford, a surgeon and founder of REAL Concierge Medicine, founded the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium after the release of Bilal’s report.

The consortium began testing Philadelphia residents nearly two weeks ago, and already has tested more than 1,200 people.

Stanford said the consortium could use the funding Evans has suggested it get. The consortium currently relies on volunteers to do the testing, but she would like to hire personnel to continue testing after the volunteers return to their regular jobs.

Stanford said the consortium tries to make sure that everyone they test is connected with a primary care physician, so they can be tested for coronavirus antibodies in the future to determine immunity months and years from now.

“I’ve really trying to build an infrastructure that is here beyond the pandemic because there is going to be research that needs to be done,” Stanford said.

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.