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Mobile clinic brings coronavirus testing to public housing sites

Brett Dahlberg
Trillium Health brought a mobile testing unit to Lake Tower, a public housing complex in Rochester, on Thursday.

A Rochester health care provider has begun visiting the city’s public housing sites to test people for the novel coronavirus.

Trillium Health’s mobile testing unit was at the Lake Tower apartment complex on Thursday, and Johnnie Toliver was first in line. 

Toliver lives in the 208-apartment building just north of downtown. She was getting tested for the virus for the first time.

“I’m a little nervous, but I’m a positive person,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be too bad.”

Toliver said she had no symptoms of COVID-19, but she’s taking the test as a precaution.

“It’s to protect myself and protect other people, too,” she said. “I want to know if I have it.”

Shawn Burr, a deputy executive director at the Rochester Housing Authority, said densely populated residences like many of the city’s public housing structures are vulnerable to outbreaks of COVID-19.

“Everybody with housing of this nature is concerned about that risk,” he said.

Mobile testing will help catch cases of the disease sooner and prevent the development of clusters, Burr said.

So far, other measures like masking requirements and frequent cleanings of common areas have largely kept the virus at bay in Rochester’s public housing facilities, but the mobile testing sites allow access to another tool to contain it, said Burr.

Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News
Tony Skinner of Trillium Health ushers Johnnie Toliver on board a mobile coronavirus testing unit outside the Lake Tower public housing complex in Rochester.

The tests are free to public housing residents, who Burr said are more likely than the general population to be in high-risk groups because of race, ethnicity, age and pre-existing health conditions.

“We’re focusing on our most vulnerable populations,” he said.

Expanding options for where people can get tested also alleviates some of the stress on the local hospital system, said Sean Owen, the nurse practitioner who runs Trillium’s mobile testing van.

Early on in the outbreak, he said, “I didn’t want to send an asymptomatic patient that didn’t have COVID-19 to the emergency department. Now that we’re in these different sites throughout the city, we’re sort of meeting them where they’re at.”

Further, Owen said, many of the initial testing sites in Rochester “just weren’t in close proximity to where low-income people and communities of color live.”

Owen said 16 people had signed up to be tested for the novel coronavirus on Thursday. Toliver, from her position at the front of the line, said she hoped there would be more.

“Everyone should take this test,” she said.

“There’s no use in you putting other people’s lives in jeopardy because you don’t know if you have it or not.”

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