Like most work plans for social change at this strange moment, this pandemic TEMPORARILY forced our work on other equity issues to take a back seat to addressing the equity implications of Covid-19. For us this is about protecting the communities most at risk of being left behind in this pandemic.
Our communities are experiencing a serious lack of pandemic-related resources and accessible, accurate information to protect people, i.e. those who were not exactly thriving before this pandemic put them at even greater risk.
We learned that the vast majority of the testing done in the City and County has been done at the few private doctors’ offices, hospitals, and walk-in clinics providing the tests for people with insurance or paying out-of-pocket. None of these testing sites were located in any low-income community.
Covid-19 case counts by ZIP code on May 14th, compared with test site locations: Location of the highest case counts correlated positively with location of test sites, as well as income. The highest case count ZIP was 37919 (Sequoya Hills) with a median income of $57,739. The lowest case count ZIP was 37915 (Morningside) with one case count and the lowest median income of all Knox County ZIPs at $16,535. The 2 ZIPs with the lowest case counts comprise the majority of African Americans in Knox County and have no testing facilities. https://covid.knoxcountytn.gov/ & www.incomebyzipcode.com
Community Voices brought this concern to Knox County and City officials. The Health Department confirmed no tests had been done of anyone who lived in the 37915 ZIP, which has the lowest median income of any ZIP code in the county. In response, the Health Department set up its largest free Covid-19 testing event so far, with outreach assistance from Community Voices.
On an April Wednesday at 12:30 pm we learned that a free testing event would occur on Saturday. By 4 pm Wednesday we were paying 8 young people from the community to begin a rapid response outreach, dropping off flyers at over 1500 East Knoxville addresses. The flyers detailed Saturday’s testing event, as well as CDC information about Covid-19 best practices.
Over 600 people either drove in or walked in to get tested that Saturday, April 25th, at the Coliseum. To date, it has been the largest single day of free Covid-19 testing in Knox County since the pandemic made itself known here.
As we go into the second phase of reopening there is still a serious lack of testing of residents in our lowest-income communities, particularly in East Knoxville, Lonsdale, Beaumont, Vestal, and Westview. While we continue advocating for setting up test sites in one or more of these communities, we are also performing targeted outreach and education about Covid-19 best practices and encouraging testing, through door-to-door flyer drops (most recently 2000 flyers for a pop-up testing event at the East Knoxville Free Medical Clinic on June 22), phone banking, and a newsletter.
Community Voices is also testing out another tool for getting good Covid-19 information and support services to residents in our highest-risk communities. The Covid-19 Equity Outreach Survey is identifying unmet testing and critical social service needs that can be relayed to agencies to respond to specific residents who take the survey. The online version of the survey is HERE.