COVID-19 Testing Blitz returns to campus Saturday

A health care worker speaks to a community member in line to get a COVID-19 test during the free, drive-thru COVID-19 Testing Blitz at GCU's 27th Avenue complex in August. Another testing event is scheduled for Saturday.

Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau

It's important, said Equity Health's Tomás León, for underserved communities to have access to health care.

Tomás León knew what it was like not to get the health care he and his family needed.

“I grew up in humble beginnings, so I understand all the barriers that exist to staying healthy and getting access to the health care services and support that is needed to maintain good health,” said León, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for Equality Health.

It’s why he’s so passionate about taking down those barriers and connecting health care services to underserved and vulnerable communities, often refugee or immigrant communities or those without the same kinds of financial resources as others.

It’s also why he and other community leaders with the R.A.P.I.D. Community-based COVID-19 Response Coalition, of which GCU recently became a member, are so passionate about events like Saturday’s free COVID Testing Blitz, a drive-thru/walk up event from 7 a.m. to noon at Grand Canyon University’s 27th Avenue Business Complex. (Sign up here.)

About 400 people in 180 cars were tested at the first testing blitz in August on GCU's campus.

This will be the second time GCU will be the host site for the COVID Testing Blitz, having done so in August. These free-of-charge, drive-thru testing events have been scheduled on Saturdays in high coronavirus zip codes, just like the zip codes in GCU’s own neighborhood.

Maryvale is one of the five most COVID-19 exposed zip codes in the state and is where many essential workers live.

“A lot of these families have jobs that put them at risk,” GCU President Brian Mueller said at last week’s USDA Farmers to Families Food Box distribution. “They’re the people that are at risk during this pandemic. So what you see a lot of in communities like this is a higher-than-the-average positivity rate. It affects these kinds of communities harder than it does other communities.”

It was in June that the Equality Health Foundation and Chicanos Por La Causa founded the R.A.P.I.D. Coalition, a private-public partnership to meet the health care needs of at-risk communities during the pandemic.

“What happened is that we saw that there was a lack of testing taking place in some of these underserved, diverse communities that are disproportionately impacted by the virus,” León said, so various organizations that serve these populations mobilized to do something more targeted and more coordinated to help stop the spread of the virus.

Both organizations had connections to GCU, and the University's location in a community hit hard by COVID-19 made it an obvious choice as a testing site. “We thought it made sense for us to reach out,” León said.

The coalition was able to test almost 400 people in 180 vehicles at the August event. But the job wasn't finished.

“With the most recent surge and spike in cases, we needed to go back and provide another round of comprehensive testing,” León said.

About 1,000 tests will be available for Saturday’s event, which is being brought to GCU not just by Equality Health and Chicanos por la Causa but by the city of Phoenix, the Arizona Department of Health Services, Adelante Healthcare, Sonora Quest Laboratories, the Arizona Latin-American Medical Association and AEL Arizona.

Nasal swab testing will be available for children as young as 2 years old, and saliva testing will be on hand for children ages 5 and older. Results are being reported as soon as 48 hours from receipt of the test.

“It is our goal as a university to serve our surrounding community,” said Connie Colbert, Director of GCU’s Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic and part of a GCU team working with the R.A.P.I.D. Coalition to bring this testing event to fruition. “These events help the health and safety of individuals in Maryvale and the surrounding areas. The area has a high COVID rate, and this is a joint effort to help support COVID mitigation efforts.”

The event is open to everyone and doesn’t just involve testing. Participants also receive a free cloth mask, a packet that includes prevention education and information about community resources, and, for those who test positive, a follow-up medical consultation call from one of the coalition’s health partners.

The coalition also recently put together a checklist for those who don’t know when to get tested. Get tested if you are:

  • Experiencing symptoms
  • Think you’ve been exposed to someone who has it
  • Need to be cleared for employment
  • Going back to school in person or returning home from college
  • Have been in family or public gatherings with lots of people, such as recent Thanksgiving gatherings (“We’re starting to see that Thanksgiving effect where people did gather and weren’t following safety measures,” León said).
The testing event is coordinated by the R.A.P.I.D. Coalition, founded by Equality Health and Chicanos por la Causa.

As these testing events continue, León looks forward to what’s next for the coalition, which has been discussing COVID-19 vaccine distribution. A COVID-19 vaccine is slated to arrive in a limited supply in mid-December and be administered to certain high-risk and priority populations. The vaccine supply will increase in the weeks and months that follow and will be dispersed to more and more groups.  

León said he knows everyone is stressed and tired of the physical distancing, masks and change in our lifestyle because of the coronavirus. But we have to remain strong together, he said, and we have to redouble our efforts as infection rates continue to spike. It’s going to take all of us to prevent the spread and hold off the virus until the vaccine arrives.

“It is personal to me,” León said of making sure every community – underserved populations, too – have access to health care. “I want to do everything I can with our coalition partners to put in place what we can to stop the spread (of the virus) and prevent it from impacting our loved ones in the community.”

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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How to sign up:

Online: equalityhealthfoundation.org/covid19

Text: FREE TEST to 31996

Call: 888-587-3647

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Related content:

GCU Today: GCU ‘part of solution’ with COVID drive-thru event

GCU Today: Almost 400 tested at community COVID-19 event

GCU Today and GCU Magazine: Health & Safety group a guiding light in COVID fight

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