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Oakland County churches offer COVID testing, hoping to reach seniors, Black community


Starting Monday, 15 churches in Pontiac and Southfield will offer free COVID-19 tests on a rotating basis over the next two weeks.

It’s a joint effort with Oakland County health officials to reach two communities hit hardest by the pandemic: Black people and older adults. Officials say African Americans make up just 14% of Oakland County’s population, but represent 33% of the COVID-19 cases, and about 36% of the deaths there. Nearly 80% of COVID deaths in Oakland County were people over 70. (Statewide data shows similar disparities.) 

At a press conference announcing the initiative, Oakland County Executive David Coulter said those numbers are “alarming.” 

“Here in Oakland County, zip codes with a majority African-American population are among those who have experienced the most total confirmed cases since the beginning of this pandemic,” he said Thursday. “We were the first county to put those racial disparity numbers up on our website, because we believe that when we're transparent about those, and we all come together to try to figure out what to do about them, we can come up with solutions. An example of which is what I think that we're doing today.” 


Several faith leaders, including Pastor Douglas Jones of Welcome Missionary Baptist Church in Pontiac, urged the community to get tested. 


“We are faith leaders, and we believe in healing,” he said. “But we also believe in testing. The Lord tests us. We need to be tested...We believe in being wise: the wisdom to be obedient. What that means is we believe to be wise, you need to wear your mask. We believe you need to wash your hands. Most importantly, we believe that you need to be tested.”


Jones also addressed the racial disparities. 


“You've heard the statistics as it relates to the Black and brown community. And let me say, the Black and brown community have nothing to be apologetic about. We are not apologetic about who we are, what color we are. We are a great contributor. And so with that, we have to make sure that we take care of ourselves, so we can continue the great contribution that we make not only to our city and our county, but to our state, to our nation.”


Calandra Anderson, county’s Supervisor of Quality and Process Improvement, said online pre-registration was required.  


“Upon arriving to the testing site, you will be asked to wear a mask. If you do not have a mask, one will be provided to you. A testing area has been identified by each church to ensure that testing runs smoothly and to maintain social distancing. We are to partner McLaren Oakland and Ascension Providence to conduct the test via nasal swab. Following the nasal swab. Individuals receive printed education, highlighting the next steps after testing. That includes information about the importance of continuing to wear a mask or face covering, practicing social sansing and washing hands. Often, individuals will be called directly with their COVID-19 test results within three to five business days.”


Coulter also urged people without any COVID-19 symptoms to be tested. 


“You don't have to have any symptoms to be carrying the virus,” he said. “So it's important for all of us to get tested, whether you have symptoms or not. Testing is going to make the difference in whether we defeat this pandemic in Michigan or not. The more we test, the more positive cases that we can identify and then isolate them, and their close contacts, to prevent the spread of the virus.”


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Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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