Black Churches Free COVID Testing Program Critical in Keeping Numbers Down

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Antonio Ray Harvey

In response to the new Omicron variant, the state’s health departments and African American faith-based communities are doubling down on why they encourage testing and vaccination that would prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

The State of California and the San Francisco Department of Public Health have confirmed a case of the Omicron variant, identified through their sequencing capabilities, and are continuing to monitor the variant’s presence and progress.

“We recognize that everyone is exhausted, and the news of a new variant can be overwhelming,” the California and San Francisco Departments of Public Health said in a joint statement. “It is important that we collectively focus on the things we know prevent the spread of COVID-19, and its variants. Individuals should get vaccinated and boosted, wear your mask in indoor settings, get tested if you have symptoms; and stay home if you are sick.”

First discovered by South African scientists, the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is the latest strain of the coronavirus to be designated a “variant of concern,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

“While the Delta variant remains the dominant variant detected among LA County residents and continues to account for 100% of cases sequenced, the Omicron variant identified by the World Health Organization in South Africa as a “variant of concern” is being closely monitored as we work with others across the globe to prepare to mitigate the challenges a new variant of concern may pose for residents and workers across the county,” the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACD Public Health), said in a written statement. 

“As we continue to learn more about Omicron, there is no reason to panic but we should remain vigilant,” Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration posted through its Twitter account. “We know how to protect ourselves from COVID – get vaccinated, get your booster & wear a mask.”

Black people account for 25% of those who have tested positive and 39% of the COVID-related deaths, while making up just 15 percent of the general population.

In California, African Americans are about 6% of the population but 10.6 percent of deaths, according to California Department Public Health (CDPH). 

As part of its commitment to reduce health inequities, the state has pertinent information about statistics in the state listed on its Health Equity Dashboard. As of Nov. 23, a total of 196,001 cases and 4,917 deaths occured in the Black community. 

The African American Community Empowerment Council (AACEC) is still implementing testing and vaccination in church parking lots, campuses, and facilities across the state.  

The AACEC of California is a non-political collective dedicated to the inclusive and comprehensive contribution and progression of African Americans throughout the state. 

“We are proud that the state has continued to work with our network of churches. With the new strands our underserved communities must continue to have access to free COVID testing,” Rev. Judi Wortham, Southern California Director for the Black church COVID testing project, said.

The testing and vaccination of at-risk, underrepresented, under-resourced African Americans, and all community members are executed in Los Angeles, San Gabriel, and San Diego San Francisco, Sacramento, Solano, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Alameda, and Riverside counties.

“At some sites, vaccines are available and help provide the level of protection of severe symptoms of this virus,” Rev. Wortham stated.

  Officials at LACD Public Health said they are still learning about Omicron and know enough about COVID to take steps that can reduce transmission. LACD Public Health is also preparing to better understand the additional strategies that may be needed to mitigate the new variant of concerns.

In the interim, testing and vaccines serves as the most effective ways to protect the Black community and public, overall.

“The vaccines are effective against the Delta variant and earlier strains of the virus which allows us to remain hopeful that the approved vaccines will also provide some protection against Omicron,” LACD Public Health stated.

To learn more about the Omicron variant and how it can impact the state of California, visit covid19.ca.gov and cdph.ca.gov. To find community health centers, faith-based communities, and African American churches that administer vaccinations and testing, visit https://www.aacec-cal.org/covidtesting.


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