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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Clinician Amy Farlett at a pop up test site being put on at the New Hope Baptist Church by Cempa Community care on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. According to an updated report by the New York Times, Chattanooga currently ranks fourth in the country in highest average daily growth of new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, with 567 cases over that timeframe.

The Hamilton County Health Department is partnering with several area churches in an effort to bring COVID-19 testing access to black communities.

Every weekend in June, testing for the coronavirus will be available to the public without an appointment at a different area church, including Mt. Canaan Baptist Church, Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist Church, Hawkinsville Baptist Church and Greater Tucker Baptist Church.

Gary Hathaway, pastor at Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church, said bringing testing directly to the community is important to remove barriers and allow residents to be proactive. Across the country, black Americans have been disproportionately infected and killed by the virus.

"Initially, the lack of testing was going on in certain parts of the city," Hathaway said. "Also, for some people in our community, it was a little difficult to get to some of the locations."

While the church is predominantly African American, anyone is welcome to be tested at Greater Tucker, Hathaway said.

New cases of the virus continue to surge in the county, which ended May with more than 1,000 confirmed people with the virus after starting the month with 163 cases. On Monday, the health department announced 49 new cases, bringing the county's total to 1,132 confirmed people with the virus. County officials have maintained the increasing number of cases is largely due to spread among essential workers and among family members, and not because of moves to reopen the county.

(READ MORE: Should Chattanooga reclose? Here's what experts say)

Starting in mid-April, some community leaders began voicing concerns about the lack of access to testing, particularly in communities of color. A number of pop-up testing sites by Cempa Community Care, along with a partnership in April between the health department and Clinica Medicos, has increased access.

The health department's initiative to bring testing to area churches is supported by a grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.
 

Here is where some testing will be held in June:

— Mt. Canaan Baptist Church on Saturday, June 6, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sunday, June 7, from noon to 3 p.m. The church is located at 4801 Highway 58, Chattanooga, TN 37416.

— Orchard Knob Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday, June 13, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sunday, June 14, from noon to 3 p.m. The church is located at 1734 E. 3rd St., Chattanooga, TN 37407.

— Hawkinsville Baptist Church on Saturday, June 20, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sunday, June 21, from noon to 3 p.m. The church is located at 7463 Pinewood Drive, Chattanooga, TN 37421.

— Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday, June 27, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sunday, June 28, from noon to 3 p.m. The church is located at 1115 N. Moore Road, Chattanooga, TN 37411.

People also can be tested this week at Brainerd High School at 1020 N. Moore Road between 7 and 11 a.m. from June 1 to June 7. Testing is also available at Orchard Knob Elementary at 2000 E. 3rd St. between 7 and 11 a.m. from June 1 to June 5.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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