GCU 'part of solution' with COVID drive-thru event

Health care professionals conduct free drive-thru COVID-19 tests at a past event. GCU will be the site of a similar testing event Saturday at 27th Avenue. (Photo contributed by Equality Health Foundation)

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

As with everything, be part of the solution.

It’s how Grand Canyon University has approached how it serves the community, from its partnership with Habitat for Humanity to its free tutoring program, and it will do the same at a no-cost, drive-thru COVID-19 testing event from 6-11 a.m. Saturday at the University’s 27th Avenue complex.

The event is part of the Arizona Testing Blitz, a series of drive-thru testing events at various sites designed to serve communities in low-income areas.

In the spring, several organizations started to worry that the high-need, hard-struck communities they were invested in were going to be left behind in the pandemic. They were concerned social, racial and economic disparities would leave those communities stranded when it came to health, finances and, ultimately, well-being.

Those communities were the hardest hit by the coronavirus yet did not have the access to COVID-19 testing that other communities did because of a lack of transportation, the language barrier and lack of access to information, since many families don’t have the internet.

The legislative district Arizona Rep. Raquel Terán represents has been hard-hit by COVID-19.

“Yes, I absolutely was hearing that – the worry about these tests not being completely free tests; the worry about waiting in line (to be tested); and, most importantly, the worry of not getting the results in time. That’s something that I heard constantly,” said Arizona Rep. Raquel Terán, whose legislative district, District 30, is one of those hard-hit areas. “Yes, that was a concern for us.”

It was a concern, too, for a coalition of nonprofits and governmental agencies, all of which are connected to these communities, including the west Phoenix neighborhood GCU calls home.

“As we started meshing and talking together, we started formulating this coalition. We all started looking at the same data. … The state looked at this also and said, ‘This is very concerning. We need to partner with some organizations,’” said Lydia Guzmán, Director of Advocacy and Civic Engagement for Chicanos por la Causa, one of the coalition members partnering with the Equality Health Foundation, Arizona Department of Health Services, Sonora Quest Laboratories, Adelante Healthcare and Equality Care Center to bring the Arizona Testing Blitz to GCU’s neighborhood. The initiative is supported through funding made available by Maricopa County.

Organizers of the drive-thru tests have been servicing underserved communities with high incidences of COVID-19. (Photo contributed by Equality Health Foundation)

GCU connected with those groups after a meeting between President Brian Mueller and David Adame, President and CEO of Chicanos por la Causa. They were discussing ways to partner, and the drive-thru testing event came out of that discussion. It became clear that the mission of the University and organizations such as Chicanos por la Causa and the Equality Health Foundation aligned.

"From an institutional community perspective, I think this will be the first time that we’ve really had an opportunity to come together in such a deep way," said GCU's Community Relations Manager, Debbie Accomazzo

Statistics from the Arizona Department of Health Services' COVID-19 Data Dashboard made it clear that zip codes showing the highest instances of the coronavirus were those low-income neighborhoods, often neighborhoods with high numbers of people of color.

Chicanos por la Causa, a nonprofit dedicated to developing the Hispanic community and empowering individuals through health and human services, housing, education and economic development, has a strong presence in these neighborhoods.

Families at the event not only will be tested but will receive educational material about COVID-19 prevention, information about other community resources, and five free cloth masks per car.

“Not only do we have a big footprint in the area, we provide a lot of services,” Guzmán said. “Our clients go to us in those areas for everything from all the health and human services to after-school programs for kids. We have several centers in the Maryvale area. It was just a no-brainer that Chicanos por la Causa was reached out to. … When they said, ‘We need you to be a partner in this,’ we said, ‘Of course, this is important to us.’”

The solution for Chicanos por la Causa and its partners: Bring testing and information to those communities through events such as the one at GCU on Saturday.

These free-of-charge, drive-thru testing events started in May and are scheduled every Saturday through the end of September in those high coronavirus zip codes.

Tomás León, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for Equality Health, said his organization is trying to address disparities in health care.

“We pick the zip codes with the greatest need that are underserved and undertested,” said Tomás León, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for Equality Health, which is focused on addressing the disparities in health care for diverse populations that do not fit the one-size-fits-all health care delivery system. “We’re trying to fill those disparity gaps. We create access to testing, education and follow-up care for people that need it most right now. When the COVID pandemic hit, we already knew communities of color were going to be disproportionately impacted.”

One of those communities is Maryvale, one of the five most COVID-19 exposed zip codes in the state. It's where many essential workers live – workers who don’t always have the luxury of social distancing.

“Certainly, there is a high-need, underserved community right in your backyard,” León said of GCU.

“This is the area where we have probably the highest amount of Spanish speakers,” Guzmán added.

Said Mueller, “The Maryvale community has been especially vulnerable to COVID-19, so we wanted to be part of the solution by offering a site where residents can come to get tested for free and help curtail the pandemic in west Phoenix.”

It’s important to note, León said, that testing at recent events has been an efficient, 10- to 12-minute process, and participants shouldn’t see the long lines they have seen in the past.

Nasal swabs can be given to participants as young as 2 years old.

Educational materials on COVID-19 prevention practices will be available, along with information about community resources. Five free cloth masks will be handed out per car.

The nasal swabs used to test participants are available to children as young as 2 years old, and results will be available within 72 hours, León added.

Guzmán also stressed that Spanish-speaking volunteers will be on hand.

“We want to make sure people don’t shy away from this because of the language barrier,” she said. “Hablan español completemente.”

She also emphasized that it’s important to register for the event so that an adequate number of testing kits are on hand and results can be sent to the correct addresses, though there is on-site registration for those without access to a computer or the internet. (Registration also can be completed by texting “FREE TEST” to 31996 or by calling 888-587-3647.)

Another boon to this event, said León, is that Equality Health provides follow-up medical consultations to those who do test positive.

“GCU has strived to address the many challenges facing the Maryvale community through our five-point plan to create jobs both on and off our campus, increase neighborhood safety through our partnership with the city of Phoenix, improve home values with our Habitat for Humanity initiative and assist K12 education with our free tutoring program that has also led to 360 full-tuition scholarships for students in our community,” Mueller said. “This (testing event) is a natural extension of that.”

And as always, it shows GCU's desire to be part of the solution.

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

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