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Area Churches Provide Free COVID-19 Tests and Flu Shots

By Tyronda James

Cephas Archie, Chief Equity Officer with the City of Rochester said COVID-19’s impact on the Rochester community and Monroe County in general hit black and brown communities hardest. 

Several area churches are offering free COVID-19 testing and flu vaccinations to the community beginning October 5 until  October 17. 

It is a partnership of the city, county and a coalition of community groups, businesses and hospital systems.

“This church-based project reflects our community’s ongoing collaborative efforts to address COVID-19 inequities for communities of color,” said Wade Norwood, Common Ground Health CEO. “Through efforts like these, we hope to stop this virus in its tracks.”

The testing and flu shots schedule is from noon to 7 p.m. at the following locations: 

Masks and social distancing are required at all sites, masks will be provided if needed.

Testing and flu shots will be provided at no cost to those who do not have health insurance. Individuals with health insurance are asked to bring their cards for submitting the claims, which are covered at no additional cost or co-pay. 

Clinicians will provide general health screenings, including temperature, blood pressure and education about coronavirus symptoms. Participants are also encouraged to sign up for the ROC COVID symptom tracker, 

The focus is to provide convenient and trusted health resources to predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods, who have experienced some of the highest rates of coronavirus cases.  

Cephas Archie, chief equity officer with the City of Rochester said COVID-19’s impact on the Rochester community and Monroe County in general hit black and brown communities hardest. 

“When we took sick, we were sicker and the impact of COVID on us, both short term and long term was just systemically more detrimental,” said Archie.

He said coming on board with the city of Rochester, he was charged to develop a structure that would bring together both the county, the community, and the city to specifically address the shortfalls or the deficits of the impact that COVID has had on the black and Brown community. 

As a result he developed the REAL, the Racial Equity and Leadership Rapid Response team, whose focus was to target and pipeline resources directly into the communities hit hardest by COVID. 

“As a result of us recognizing the need to work together and to demolish the silos that have intentionally kept us apart at being able to effectively address these challenges, the community, the city, the state government, everyone came together and said, we will do better and do more with increasing these opportunities by access amongst these communities devastated,” said Archie. 

“This is our ability to put these resources at their disposal.” 

Participants are not required to have symptoms to be tested and will be notified by staff of test results and connect them with a health care provider if they do not already have one.

“Symptoms, no symptoms. We want everyone to come and get tested,” noted Marielena Velez de Brown, Deputy Commissioner of Public Health at Monroe County Department of Public Health.

Additional resources will be available on legal assistance, housing as well as other services like census and voting.

Archie said the idea and hope is to make sure the critical resources that are needed are given directly to the people.

“One of the significant components of this is to really set a great pilot beta test. If and when the vaccine is free, we can use this model and this approach to pipeline the vaccine into the communities, just like we’re using the prevention efforts now. So it’s our duty to be preventative, but also to be responsive. And this collaborative approach of breaking the silos to do that will allow us to effectively get these resources into the hands and to the people who need the most,” said Archie. 

The first church to offer services is Aenon Missionary Baptist Church of Rochester, senior pastor Dr. Jonathan McReynolds said he’s been reassuring his congregation and hoping to ease COVID test taking apprehension. 

“There’s a history in our country going back to the Tuskegee experiment and other healthy living matters historically that makes certain communities apprehensive about trusting certain things in the healthcare community, said McReynolds.  

He hopes the partnerships and collaborations will put a friendly face to COVID testing and take away the fear that some may have.

“I feel it’s critical for institutions like in Aenon Missionary Baptist church and other churches in our community to partner with health agencies, to bring these vital sources to the community,” McReynolds noted.

“The more we can test people, the more we can eradicate and eliminate the spread.”

Archie wants the community to take advantage of the services and resources. “This is an opportunity that you can get these services without having to worry about paying without a dime,” said Archie.

“Come and get them because your health is more valuable than the money.”