PALMYRA — The Thomas Jefferson Health District hosted its first drive-thru coronavirus testing clinic on Saturday as other health officials planned wide-scale testing at Charlottesville’s Crescent Halls.
Twenty-six people scheduled appointments for testing at Central Elementary School in Palmyra. Officials had the ability to administer 60 tests, according to Jessica Salah, the district’s emergency coordinator.
After several area residents showed up early, cars trickled down the drive way and past a line of parked school buses as health care workers stood by. Most cars moved through the line, with residents getting tested and receiving information and a packet of Goldfish crackers, within a few minutes.
The testing is the first in the district, which covers Charlottesville and Fluvanna, Albemarle, Greene, Nelson and Louisa counties, according to spokeswoman Kathryn Goodman.
The clinic was scheduled in response to an outbreak at Envoy at the Village and was specifically for people who are experiencing symptoms. Test results should be back in 24 to 48 hours.
As of Friday, Fluvanna County has 78 confirmed cases of the virus. Albemarle County has 80, Charlottesville has 44, Louisa County has 36 and Nelson and Greene have less than 10 each, according to the health district.
The health district reported 13 deaths on Friday. The Virginia Department of Health website, which typically lags behind local reporting, listed 11 deaths as of Saturday, with five in Fluvanna County.
The clinic was originally targeting people who may have a connection to Envoy, but Goodman said it was expanded to surrounding areas because not many people were signing up.
Goodman and Salah said the clinic is a trial run and could serve as an example for other drive-thru clinics in the area.
“We really wanted to make sure this worked,” Salah said.
Crescent Halls effort
Meanwhile, former Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy is working with city and local health officials to conduct novel coronavirus testing at Crescent Halls.
Bellamy said he was contacted by Gilbert Bland, chair of the Virginia African American Advisory Board and a member of the board of Sentara Healthcare, about testing African Americans and making sure the black community is being tested in a fair and prompt fashion.
Officials have previously said that African Americans have tested positive for COVID-19 and required hospital care at disproportionate rates throughout the district.
Throughout the country, African Americans are being infected and killed by the virus at disproportionate rates, due often to a deadly mix of pre-existing health conditions and uneven access to health care, according to The Washington Post.
Bellamy said conducting testing at Crescent Halls would help determine if the city’s African American population is affected in a similar way or if it is an anomaly.
Officials are hoping to offer 100 to 150 tests and collect information on how many people have been exposed to the virus.
Although not everyone in the 108-unit public housing complex is African American, Bellamy said many have pre-existing conditions or could be asymptomatic.
“It felt like a good opportunity to have a group of people who are all in one space and have similar demographics,” he said.
Officials at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital wouldn’t comment directly on the testing push because it is still in the planning stages. In an emailed statement, Jackie Martin, director of community benefit, said that “a number of underserved at-risk populations” need access to screenings and testings.
“Although we cannot provide testing to everyone, we hope to reach some of those at-risk communities,” she said.
Dr. Denise Bonds, medical director for the health district, said that collecting information on demographics and how the virus is acting outside of long-term care facilities would help officials refine outreach efforts for testing and mitigation strategies.
Bonds said the information could also be used to encourage people to take social distancing more seriously.
“Those individuals in the community who have not yet adopted cloth face coverings may be nudged toward wearing them if we know that a large number of community members are infected but have no symptoms,” she said.
For anyone at Crescent Halls who tests positive, Bellamy said officials are working with Sentara to cover their treatment costs.
Bellamy said officials hope to conduct tests by May 1. Participation would be voluntary and the initiative could be mirrored throughout the state.
“If we can get this one done in Charlottesville, we can do it in other places as well,” he said.
City Hall closure
City officials announced on Saturday that City Hall will remain closed to the public, with most employees working from home, through at least May 24.
In its announcement, the city said that the suspension of late fees and interest on local taxes has been extended to June 22. Businesses that are paying meals and lodging taxes are encouraged to file timely returns and set up payment arrangements with the city.
Beginning May 1, the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services will allow document dropoffs between 10 a.m. and noon each Friday.
Applicants will be able to enter City Hall, place items on the NDS conference room table and then exit the building. More information will be posted on the city’s new website on Monday.