A new testing site for those experiencing symptoms that may point to the pandemic coronavirus opened in Bond Hill to lines of cars — though not everyone who comes will get a test for the virus.
The tent-based site at 1701 Mercy Health Way, near the intersection of Reading Road and the Norwood Lateral, will operate for the next 30 days. Mercy Health calls it a flu clinic, though COVID-19 tests will be available to those who meet federal testing guidelines.
New Prospect Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Damon Lynch III, community activist Iris Roley, Bond Hill-based group Community Economic Advancement Initiatives and others advocated for the site in Bond Hill. That community is roughly 90 percent African-American.
"We pushed to get a testing site in the black community," Roley said in a Facebook live stream. "If you're a frontline worker, if you have conditions like asthma or diabetes... you can come and get tested."
The site is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Flu and COVID-19 tests are free of charge, Roley says. The appropriate tests won't require a physician's referral. Those who need more information can call 513-952-5930.
"Patients of all ages are welcome," Bon Secours Mercy Health said in a statement. "This clinic is expanding vital health services to Bond Hill, Roselawn, Avondale, and surrounding communities. Our clinics are intended to evaluate and treat symptomatic patients. Mercy Health is following CDC guidelines on who we test and not all who come to the clinic will be tested for COVID-19."
Mercy's Dr. Keith Melvin was working the site on Wednesday. He said 15 cars were waiting for tests when the site opened that morning.
"Many who are coming are not sick right now, but they're coming because they're high risk," he said. "They've got diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease. Or they're health care workers or social workers going in and out of peoples' houses and they believe they should be checked. We're glad we have this opportunity in our community. Certainly people in our community have been at high risk and they haven't been checked."
Bond Hill has seen 15 confirmed cases of the virus thus far, according to Cincinnati Health Department data. That's higher than all but five other Cincinnati neighborhoods — one of which is neighboring Pleasant Ridge, which has 28 confirmed cases.
"We haven't had much testing in the Avondale, Bond Hill, Roselawn area," Melvin said. "So we're here to find out how many people in our communities need to be staying home and watching what they're doing. I certainly want to see people over the age of 60 and (who) have a lot of risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or may be battling cancer right now."
The site in Bond Hill comes as preliminary data suggests that the pandemic coronavirus is infecting and killing a disproportionate number of people of color across the country. That is likely due to disparate access to health care, income disparities and other socioeconomic factors.
An ongoing data tracking effort by Johns Hopkins University has collected data from 26 states not including Ohio. Black residents accounted for 14 percent of the populations of those states, according to Johns Hopkins, but were 34 percent of the fatalities due to COVID-19.
Data from Ohio is incomplete because not all data about hospital patients admitted for COVID-19 includes race.
Statistics in Cincinnati are similarly incomplete. Of the 297 people with confirmed cases in the city as of Wednesday, 94 are black, 82 are white and race isn't known for 103 cases. Cincinnati is about 42 percent black and 50 percent white.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine acknowledged the state is seeing a disparity during his April 20 daily briefing and announced the creation of a minority health strike force made up of black community leaders to focus on the issue.
"COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting African-Americans in Ohio and the country," DeWine said. "This is very concerning."
The drive-thru clinic is a step in the right direction, Roley says. She said another site could be on the way soon.
"This virus is taking far too many of our people out," she said. "We want to make sure we have some equity in all of this. We pushed for this site, and we got it."