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Rochester nonprofit sets up free COVID-19 early detection sites in minority communities

Common Ground Health, a Rochester nonprofit, says it's setting up pre-screenings for COVID-19 symptoms in neighborhoods hit hardest by the pandemic.

Common Ground Health, a Rochester nonprofit organization, began screening people for COVID-19 symptoms at free clinics around the city on Saturday.

The organization stressed that the screenings are not coronavirus tests. Rather, they’re meant to detect early signs of COVID-19 in populations where the disease is taking the greatest toll.

The most recent data from the Monroe County public health department showed ethnic and racial minorities overrepresented in coronavirus cases, as well as COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

Common Ground Health said the screenings are open to anyone, but they’re located in neighborhoods with a high proportion of racial and ethnic minorities.

“We are more likely to be exposed,” said Dr. Linda Clark, the president of the Black Physicians Network of Greater Rochester and a senior health advisor at Common Ground Health.

“When we look at New York state’s antibody data, higher proportions of black populations and brown -- Latino -- populations are exposed to COVID-19.”

Clark said data also shows ethnic and racial minorities tend to wait longer to seek medical care for COVID-19 symptoms than white people and are more likely to become critically ill from the disease.

“We want to make sure that we interrupt that chain,” Clark said. “We want people to get to the emergency room and to the hospital early enough so that they don’t get so sick that they need to be on a ventilator.”

People of color have been overrepresented in COVID-19 statistics across the country. Clark said Monroe County is no different -- and that’s not a surprise.

“Everybody hates the word ‘racist,’ but it’s probably the best word to use to describe the situation,” she said. “Racist policies, procedures, institutional ideas and constructs are why we are where we are today.”

County health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said last month that he wanted to speed up the detection of coronavirus cases in minority communities.

“Structural racism has put people of color on the front lines disproportionately,” Mendoza said.

If the screenings determine that someone is infected with the novel coronavirus, Clark said staff will encourage the person to either contact their doctor or get tested for the virus at Trillium Health or Jordan Health, which offer care on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay.

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