Coronavirus Updates

Rapid testing helps to stop spread of COVID-19 among homeless population

Local News

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – West Virginia Health Right in Charleston, WV is one of the few locations in the area offering rapid COVID-19 test results. But for the population they serve, getting answers fast is vital.

“We knew from very early that we deal with the population in the region that would be tremendously affected by COVID-19 if it was not closely monitored,” said Steven Hall, Communications Director for WV Health Right. The group’s mission is to provide healthcare to uninsured or underinsured adults living in poverty. That is a group of people especially vulnerable during a pandemic.

“In certain situations, say we have one homeless individual that tests positive, we need those results immediately so that we can access the rest of the population that may have been exposed and contain as much as possible quickly,” Hall said.

To keep people safe, area homeless shelters are requiring testing. It is a service WV Health Right is offering daily behind their building. The rapid tests can provide results within 20 minutes.

“If an independent lab is backed up you are looking at anywhere from a one to five day turn around on that test,” explained Isaiah Merritt, a registered nurse at WV Health Right working specifically on COVID-19 testing. “That is a period of time where these individuals wouldn’t have access to the resources they need.”

He said for many of the patients they are helping having access to those test results could be the difference between having a roof over their head or sleeping outside.

“If we are approached by someone seeking shelter we are going to push them to the forefront and get theirs done first,” Merritt said.

WV Health Right is also doing COVID-19 screening daily at Manna Meal. They are asking questions about possible exposure, monitoring for symptoms and taking temperatures. They then test those who meet the criteria.

“We’ve had several cases that have led to positive cases in the shelters and we have been able to quickly identify them, isolate them and we haven’t had any major outbreaks at this point,” Hall said.

Grant funding is helping with the cost of testing supplies. They’ve also had to hire additional staff to keep up with the demand. Rapid testing is available to anyone in need. But depending on demand for the tests on any given day some may still have to be sent to an outside lab for processing.

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