Amanda McMillan talks about the COVID-19 testing process at Poplar Healthcare

Memphis Commercial Appeal

Shortly after 1 p.m. on Sunday, a steady trickle of people started to make their way into the basement of Sacred Heart Church on Jefferson Avenue where a make-shift COVID-19 testing center had been set up for the day by the Shelby County Health Department, part of a concerted effort to expand testing in the Latinx community. 

A similar testing event and mask giveaway was held Saturday at Church of the Ascension. Testing was available to anyone 13 or older, regardless of whether they were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Forty-two people were tested Saturday, a significant increase from a testing event held last weekend, and the department hoped to test even more individuals Sunday, said Kelly Sealey, manager of the health department’s vulnerable populations team.

Within 45 minutes of the event starting Sunday, at least 10 people had shown up to be tested.

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Shelby County Health Department Chief of Epidemiologist David Sweat speaks to officials meeting inside Brownsville City Hall with local officials in the rural county 50 miles northeast of Memphis who are grappling high COVID case numbers on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.  (Photo: Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal)

David Sweat, chief of epidemiology for the Shelby County Health Department, said Thursday that Shelby County’s Latinx population remained particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

“The distribution of our cases has had a disproportionate impact on our minority populations. We’ve seen that throughout the entire epidemic,” he said.

As of Sunday, 423,218 total COVID-19 tests have been performed in Shelby County. Of the 30,255 positive test results returned since the beginning of the pandemic in Shelby County, 20% have been Hispanic or Latinx individuals, according to the health department. 

Hispanic or Latinx children make up 30% of the more than 2,800 pediatric cases of COVID-19 in Shelby County. 

“Once again, our minority populations are bearing a disproportionate share of cases among children,” Sweat said.

Sealey said those figures were the impetus behind the weekend testing events, as well as those held last weekend and two more planned for Oct. 3rd and 10th. Sealey said the health department was focusing efforts to improve testing and education in communities or geographic areas shown to be at higher risk for the virus.  

The health department is also working to improve its educational outreach about the virus as well as the services it can offer, including housing and food for people who test positive and need to be able to isolate from their families and connections to other agencies that provide financial assistance if people cannot work due to COVID-19.

“We try to pull all of this together. We don’t want to just give you the bad news if you test positive,” she said.


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