By Sue Favor
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — On a side street alongside Harvard Recreation Center Park, the line of cars went all the way down the block and around the corner and kept coming.
For four hours Oct. 31, area residents patiently waited for their turn to have their blood taken for an antibody test to determine if they have COVID-19. The “pop-up” testing event was the latest for myCOVIDMD, a telehealth and online portal that connects people to medical professionals.
By the end of the afternoon around 200 had received testing that they might not have had a way to get otherwise — and it was free.
“Anybody who wants a COVID test, whether you’re insured, uninsured, rich, poor, come get in line and get tested, no questions asked,” said Dr. Nana Afoh-Manin, one of three physicians who founded the organization.
When people preregister for a myCOVIDMD testing event, they receive a call from a doctor who discusses any possible symptoms they or others in their household might have. Test results are sent by email, after which the doctor calls again to follow up and make sure there are no questions.
“If they’re positive or quarantined, that is their doctor for the next 14 days,” Afoh-Manin said. “Anything that happens to that person after they’ve been tested is then followed by a doctor. That’s how it should be.”
The endeavor is an extension of the Shared Harvest Fund, which Afoh-Manin founded with two other African-American female physicians as a way to ease student loan debt. Students can volunteer their time and services in exchange for a student loan payment.
For their assistance with COVID antibody testing, young medical students receive either a stipend towards their loans or monies in an emergency savings account.
On their website, Afoh-Manin writes: “The coronavirus is a community-acquired infection that should have a community-centered response. The CovidMD Volunteer task force is an example of a private-public sector collaboration to national service that delivers a grassroots virtual triaging system so that no person is left behind in getting the human support and care they need.
“This is an emergency task force trained for, and by the people,” Afoh-Manin said.
The Culver City-based doctor and her colleagues found themselves swamped earlier this year as the pandemic took hold of the nation. They watched as the virus took the lives of people of color at much higher rates, due to lack of insurance and access to medical care, and pre-existing medical conditions that hadn’t been treated.
“We were three frontline ER doctors who saw the first wave (of the pandemic) and who were crying with our patients as they were dying,” Afoh-Manin said. “And we know a lot of this is because they didn’t have that go-to doctor.”
Afoh-Manin said lack of access to adequate health care is one of the biggest crises in the U.S.
“The goal is to make sure people have access, and this is access,” she said looking at the line of cars. “Even many of those who have insurance are under-insured. We are trying to do something about that.”
The organization has conducted 36 testing events around the U.S. since March, in low-income communities of color. Because it is a free service, Shared Harvest has to fund raise heavily, and schedules accordingly.
“In this time of COVID, if we’re really saying it’s a public health crisis, as a collective effort … we’ve got to address the access issue. So this is our small but mighty way of addressing the access issue.”
To register for the next testing event, or to donate, go to covidmd.org.
Sue Favor is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers, who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.