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Neighborhood pop-up testing works to bridge health gaps in marginalized communities

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Some of the hardest hit communities in the COVID-19 pandemic are also some of those least likely to seek or access testing services.

That's why nonprofit organizations across Dane County have been working with public health officials to get that testing to their neighborhoods.

One of those leaders is Tutankhamum Assad, locally known as "Coach," the CEO of the Mellowhood Foundation, based in Madison's Meadowood neighborhood.

"Black health matters and that's where I'm going to leave it," he said.

Assad said that was the motivation behind setting up a temporary testing facility at Orchard Ridge United Church, ensuring his community had access to public health services.

"We're definitely the people that feel the brunt of every pandemic health issue because it crushes up because of the way we're made to live in this country," he said.

Coronavirus has been no different. Despite making up seven percent of Wisconsin's population, a quarter of the people who have died so far were Black.

Assad said there are a number of reasons behind those numbers including poverty, a distrust in medicine due to decades of racial bias and discrimination in the field and a higher prevalence of pre-existing conditions, due to historical gaps in healthcare.

"We have to advocate for our own safety and health," he said.

Assad wasn't the only one. Michael Johnson with the Boys and Girls Club worked with other community organizers to set up a series of tests targeting other marginalized communities.

Aurielle Smith, the division director of policy planning and evaluation for Public Health said the first thing she hopes this tackles is access.

"They're letting us know what they're hearing from individuals in our community about why they won't get tested or how testing isn't available,"she said. "Not everybody has three hours in the middle of the day to wait for a COVID test."

These neighborhood sites are designed for a much smaller volume of tests and can accommodate drivers as well as anyone walking up.

Still, Johnson said it's also important that people from the marginalized communities feel comfortable coming out.

"Some people may not trust the people that's in that environment and so we're going to hire people who live and work in those communities to greet people that come in," he said.

Peng Her, CEO of the Hmong Institute said that's particularly important for some of the people he's advocating for. He said he's heard a lot of concern from the immigrant community about the National Guard presence at the Alliant Energy testing site.

"There's a lot of fear when you talk about governments doing testing right? Because of their experience in Laos or in the refugee camps whether it's for vaccinations or just shot," he said.

At the Hmong Institute site, Her said there will be several interpreters and community advocates to help explain the testing process and provide resources regarding the best public health practices.

"Through education and talking to them in their native language hopefully that will help reduce that anxiety," he said.

The pop-up testing will take place over the next two weeks, in a different neighborhood every Tuesday and Thursday. The goal is to test 5,000 people.

Anyone is welcome to stop by.

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Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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