Hundreds of people lined up in West Akron for free, in-car coronavirus testing over the weekend.
The parking lot at House Of The Lord Church was filled with the sound of idling cars on Saturday morning as people crept toward a row of doctors and technicians from Summa Health and Summit County Public Health.
The test itself took just a few seconds, but it highlights serious health disparities, according to the church’s associate pastor Herman Matherson.
“If you’ve got a heart and lungs and can breathe, COVID-19 wants you [and] you’re a candidate," Matherson says. "And that’s what we need to understand.”
This weekend, the number of coronavirus cases in Ohio passed 50,000, as deaths totaled 2,807. The past week has seen a surge of new cases and hospitalizations in the state.
Matherson says among members of his congregation – many of whom are Black, elderly, or both – there’s been a great deal of concern about the disease ever since health department numbers showed it disproportionately affected African American residents.
“There’s fear – nobody wants to catch it," Matherson says. "Nobody wants to be around people who are not doing the PPE protocols. There is some angst because it’s taken a pandemic to draw attention to some of the issues that have been going on in our community for a while, which we already knew about, and it’s just exacerbated now.
“With the pre-existing conditions that are prevalent in the African-American community, [the disease] thrives even more: obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, kidney conditions," he says.
Billi Copeland-King is director of the nearby Summa Health Equity Center.
“Equity is all about health disparities and access to health care," Copeland-King says. "And we know that in certain populations, there’s a lack of access to health care. They want to know what it is, why they should be concerned, and what they can do about it.”
Destry Brooks from Akron suffers from lupus and was one of the people tested Saturday.
“The test is free – you can’t beat that," Brooks says. "Everyone needs to come out. In this neighborhood, we have to be safe.”
Brooks plans to bring his three adult kids back for testing on Sunday, when the test site at 1650 Diagonal Road will be open from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3 p.m.-5 p.m.
Recent Summit County Health numbers show that the rate of infection among African Americans has stabilized, but it’s increasing among the county’s Asian American population – specifically those in North Hill. Health commissioner Donna Skoda says they are considering holding a similar in-car event in that part of Akron.