Black doctors join Black churches on free COVID-19 test effort in at-risk communities

Dr. Octavia Pickett Blake, a volunteer with the Black Doctor COVID-19 Consortium, doing coronavirus tests.
Photo credit Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  A consortium of African-American doctors has partnered with Black church leaders to provide free coronavirus testing in Philadelphia, and they’re doing it with the hopes of slowing the spread within a vulnerable population.

They came by car and on foot, lining up, sometimes for hours to get tested for COVID-19.

Stacey Baldwin was one of the more than 100 people who were tested at Pinn Memorial Baptist Church in Wynnefield before noon on Wednesday. She said she had a bad cough, “but other than that, praise God.”

Dozens sat in their cars, practicing social distancing as they waited their turn. Some reported symptoms, others just exposure. 

Herbert Smith, a Vietnam veteran, said he was exposed at the bank.

“I got a letter that said one of the tellers has coronavirus,” he said, “so I figured I should get tested because I have no idea what I’m fighting.”

Scores of folks got tests for #covid19 today for free at #PinnMemotialBaptist thanks to the #BlackDoctorCOVID19Consortium. @alastanford leads the effort to help vulnerable. More free testing Friday in Mt Airy. Story on @KYWNewsradio an drive. #COVID19 #coronavirus #pandemic pic.twitter.com/qt7Q5ptvVY

— Cherri Gregg (@cherrigregg) April 23, 2020

Black Philadelphians outpace white residents in the city’s coronavirus deaths. Additionally, in cities like Chicago, New Orleans and Detroit, Black people are more likely to test positive and even though they represent a minority of the population of their states, they represent the majority of deaths from COVID-19.

“I started getting calls from people saying, ‘I went to one site and they said I wasn't old enough. I went to another hospital and they said I need a referral and I went to a drive-up place and they said they couldn’t help me because I was walking,’ ” said Dr. Ala Stanford, noting that the disparities made her want to step up.

A pediatric surgeon, she said her operating room shut down except for emergencies because of the pandemic. While sitting at home watching CNN and other news outlets, she quickly saw the impact on African-American communities. 

So, she began advocating and came up with mitigation strategies to reduce the morbidity and death rates in Black communities, which included mass testing. Unfortunately, her recommendations came on deaf ears.

“I called the city and state and said I’d like to partner with you. We got nothing,” she said. 

But instead of stopping at the roadblocks, she went around them by rounding up dozens of other volunteers. 

The effort gave birth to the Black Doctor COVID-19 Consortium.

“I reached out to friends who are physicians and nurses and nurse practitioners,” she said. ”These are medical students and we are out here.”

They pooled their testing resources and got LabCorp on board to provide testing supplies. At $100 each, they provide as many tests as they can, up to a couple hundred each day. 

They save money because of the volunteers. 

Black churches are a critical part of the #covid19 testing. African Americans outpace whites when it comes to death from #coronavirus. Mass testing - says #black doctors will change that. Hear from Rev Marshall Mitchell of @SalemAbington @KYWNewsradio pic.twitter.com/oxaHoEloIa

— Cherri Gregg (@cherrigregg) April 23, 2020

Most do telemedicine full time and spend the rest of their days helping at the free testing sites.

“I had patients earlier this morning then I came out here,” said volunteer Dr. Octavia Pickett Blake, a gastroenterologist at Penn. “I think we need to do our part to step up.”

The consortium raised money, and uses dozens of volunteers to provide free COVID-19 testing, partnering with Black churches to get it all done, said Rev. Marshall Mitchell, pastor of Salem Baptist Church.

“We have churches, we have resources. We will not wait for the government. We shouldn’t have to wait for the government,” he said. 

The consortium will host a free testing day on Friday at Mt. Airy Church of God and Christ on Ogontz Avenue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.