The Washtenaw County Health Department, in cooperation with Packard Health and St. Joseph Mercy Health System, is expanding free COVID-19 testing in the Ypsilanti area in response to data that showed the 48197 and 48198 ZIP codes were the hardest-hit in the county.
Health department officials hosted a "pop-up" testing station at the Ypsilanti Township Community Center from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, May 9. They plan to host another from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, May 16 at the Community Family Life Center, 1375 S. Harris Rd. in Ypsi Township and a third from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday, May 17 at the New Covenant Baptist Church, 2345 Tyler Rd. in Ypsi Township. Additionally, ongoing testing at the Perry Early Learning Center, 550 Perry St. in Ypsi, launched May 7 and will continue indefinitely, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Jimena Loveluck, health officer with the Washtenaw County Health Department, says the COVID-19 testing situation has been "challenging."
"There's been a shortage of testing in general, not only in our area, but across Michigan and across the country," Loveluck says. She adds that it not only takes a lot of manpower to do widespread testing, but supplies like swabs and reagents are in high demand.
She says that immediately after the county health department released COVID-19 data broken down by ZIP code and race, county staff began working with healthcare partners to bring testing to the hardest-hit areas.
Packard Health is staffing the testing sites, while St. Joseph Mercy is helping to do assessments about the social determinants of health that might put Ypsi-area residents at higher risk. The needs assessment asks those getting tested if they have appropriate cleaning supplies and the ability to safely self-isolate if needed. Those in need are directed to community resources to address those needs, including food, transportation, and even housing assistance for self-isolation if the person who tested positive for COVID-19 doesn't have a safe place to do so.
"We wanted to ensure we set up community testing sites not only in the community setting, where it's most accessible to people in need of testing, but that we'd also be able to ensure that people have access to other sorts of support services they might need to protect against COVID-19," Loveluck says.
Health department officials have also added more symptoms to the list that qualify residents to receive testing. Early on, those wanting a test had to meet "very strict criteria," Loveluck says.
"As that criteria has expanded, we were still hearing from people that they couldn't access testing and were being turned away even if they had symptoms," she says.
Those experiencing even mild symptoms are now eligible for free testing. The list of symptoms has been expanded to include not only fever, cough, and shortness of breath, but also muscle aches, severe fatigue, loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, runny nose, sore throat, and congestion.
In the near future, as Michigan and other states begin to lift stay-home orders, Loveluck says county efforts around contact tracing will become an important part of containing the spread of the virus.
Loveluck says the county is seeing "a lessening of the strain on the hospital system" due to the success of Michigan's stay-home order. While COVID-19 cases are on the rise in some locations on the west side of the state, she says most areas of Michigan are "going in the right direction."
"The University of Michigan planned to open a field hospital in early April because they were concerned about capacity, but those plans have been canceled because they didn't need that surge capacity," Loveluck says. "That is good news."
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photo by Sarah Rigg.