Cempa Community Care, Chattanooga Housing Authority to provide free COVID-19 testing in underserved communities

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Cempa Community Care is photographed Tuesday, July 30, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Cempa Community Care will offer free drive-thru and walk-up COVID-19 testing on Wednesday, May 13, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m in the Alton Park community.

Testing will take place at the Bethlehem Center's parking lot, located at 200 W. 38th St, and will be available without an appointment or a physician's referral in coordination with Alleo Health System and LifeSpring Pediatrics, according to a news release.

The nasal-based swab tests for active COVID-19 infections and will be provided at no out-of-pocket cost. If a patient has insurance, testing site workers will document that information and bill for the services rendered.

Results can be expected within 24 to 72 hours, the release states.

"We are proud to be able to mobilize alongside other excellent community organizations to continue expanding access to much-needed testing in our area," said Shannon Stephenson, CEO at Cempa Community Care, in a statement. "Giving individuals a way to find out their status empowers them to make smarter choices about how they navigate their daily routines, and ultimately, creates a safer environment for our entire community."

Minority and marginalized communities, like many residents in Alton Park, can be disproportionately affected by COVID-19, according to the American Medical Association.

"There are deep-seated inequities that disproportionately affect many communities of color including higher rates of chronic diseases (asthma, diabetes, hypertension), lower access to health care, lack of paid sick leave, lack of or inadequate health insurance, income disparities, any of which could heighten the effects of a crisis like the coronavirus outbreak," reads the AMA website.

Free COVID-19 testing makes getting tested more accessible for the general public, including for those with less access to quality healthcare and insurance. Free drive-thru testing in Hamilton County without a physician referral or symptoms started in mid-April.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 236,328 tests have been performed in the state to date.

While 30% of positive cases are "pending" in terms of racial data, the data that exists shows that black Tennesseans account for 21% of the states positive cases overall, while 31% of the 237 deaths attributed to the virus have been black. That's above the U.S. Census Bureau's estimates that black residents make up 17.1% of the state's population.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Thursday his administration plans to start focusing on minority communities by moving on to high-density, low-income urban settings such as public housing.

The Chattanooga Public Housing Authority announced last week that the agency would begin COVID-19 testing in five housing communities on Monday and Tuesday of this week - but the effort was called off at the last minute, on Saturday.

The National Guard was to offer as many as 3,100 free tests at Mary Walker Towers and Emma Wheeler Homes on Monday and at College Hill Courts, East Lake Courts, and Greenwood Terrace on Tuesday.

According to a news release from the authority, "Tennessee Black Caucus and pastors from the area expressed concerns about having professionals in uniform conducting the testing" and therefore it was called off.

The housing authority said there will be further discussions of other partners to get the testing done.

Jeff McClendon, an authority board member and Mary Walker Towers resident, said in a news release, "We've been told by the local, state and federal officials how important testing is, and yet now the message we're given is that testing is important to everyone except residents in public housing. The decision to not test puts all of us at an even higher risk. It's not acceptable."