As Virginia slowly reopens in time for the summer, the pandemic is still a reality. Richmond’s Health Brigade is providing free testing for Spanish-speaking and uninsured patients every Saturday all summer long.
As states across the country continue to reopen and life (more or less) returns to normal, COVID-19 remains in the back of everyone’s minds. Luckily, testing has become much more widely available than it was at the start of the pandemic. But for some who lack consistent access to health care even at the best of times, obtaining an affordable COVID-19 test remains a challenge.
To ensure that the maximum number of Richmonders are able to obtain tests this summer, Health Brigade is offering free COVID-19 testing to uninsured and Spanish-speaking patients from 9:00 a.m. to noon every Saturday (except July 4) throughout June, July, and August.
Health Brigade, formerly Fan Free Clinic, has been providing health and medical services to underserved patients since 1970. Since their inception, they have assisted in distributing contraceptives, were early responders to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and have continually given medical care to those who are uninsured and underprivileged.
“We do this outside, we have tents set up, we have bilingual registrars who collect information, and we have volunteer providers who do the actual testing,” said Dr. Wendy Klein, the medical director at Health Brigade. “There’s a lot of organizational work and a lot of staff safety officers, but you have to do this right.”
Klein said that the Virginia Department of Health and the Richmond City Health Department have been very proactive in testing underserved and Spanish-speaking communities for COVID-19.
If you go to one of these testing sites, this is the process you will follow: first, you will walk up and be given a number that corresponds to the number of test kits they have on hand. You will then wait in your car until you are directed to stand in a line. Klein said that they use the lines on the parking spots as indicators of where patients will stand because they are 9 feet apart from each other. Once you are in this line, volunteers in masks and other personal protective equipment will administer the tests.
“We’re really lucky at Health Brigade because we’ve been given the nair swab,” said Dr. Katie Tyson, one of the volunteer providers. “So instead of having to go all the way back and feel like you’re getting a brain biopsy, these we just run around the inside of each nostril and it’s very gentle. It’s much safer for everybody because it doesn’t make people gag and cough and sputter.”
“Anyone who comes in and has seen a video of the nasopharyngeal swab or has had it done elsewhere, when I or the interpreter explain what we’re going to do, you see them relax. I always feel like, ‘It is your lucky day!’” said Tyson.
Klein said that come fall, there will likely be flu shot centers almost everywhere and made widely available.
“The Virginia Department of Health is very concerned about flu season and making sure everyone gets vaccinated,” said Klein, “because imagine the problem if there’s a bad flu going around, too.”
Health Brigade is located at 1010 N. Thompson St, in the upper Fan. If you’re seeking a test, arrive early, as they are only available each Saturday while supplies last.
Top Photo: Dr. Katie Tyson, courtesy Health Brigade