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EBR releases details on expanded COVID testing for African American citizens

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BATON ROUGE – Pennington Biomedical Research Center is partnering with East Baton Rouge City-Parish to research and address the issue of why a disproportionate number of African Americans have yet to be tested for COVID-19 despite the fact that a significant number of this population continues to succumb to COVID-related complications.

Pennington Biomedical Research Center released a Thursday (Feb. 4) news release, saying that although a much higher percentage of people who identify as Black die from COVID-19 than those who identify as white, many of Louisiana’s Black residents remain reluctant to be tested for the virus.

The release went on to state that local scientists and health organizations plan to change this, and officials feel that the key to the change may be found in collaborating with churches, schools, community centers and clinics in Black communities.

Dr. John Kirwan, Executive Director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, said, “The new, more dangerous variants of COVID-19 and the need to distribute vaccines fairly make it all the more urgent that we do a better job of testing in underserved Black communities.”

“We think more people may be willing to undergo tests, and later get vaccinated," Kirwan continued, "if they can do so in places that are familiar and where they feel most comfortable.”

According to Pennington Biomedical, local researchers have successfully used this strategy to help low-income patients with obesity lose weight. The Research Center placed health coaches into primary care clinics, a familiar setting where study participants felt more relaxed.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston-Broome said encouraging Black residents to get tested and vaccinated will also require overcoming a distrust of health studies and the health system. 

“The coronavirus has exposed, and continues to expose, the gap in access to health care that divides our city, parish, state and country,” Broome said. “Increasing testing in Louisiana’s Black communities is vitally important to understanding and slowing the virus’s spread. The data the scientists collect will also help us understand the role health disparities play in the coronavirus’s impact on our residents.”

Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center (LA CaTS) secured a $1.8 million grant through the National Institutes of Health to conduct the research. Researchers are partnering with HealthyBR, a collaboration among Baton Rouge’s 100 top health and human services organizations and hospital systems, to achieve the project’s goals.

Scientists will use a multimedia campaign to promote and conduct saliva testing at 16 churches, schools, clinics, and community centers in the 70805, 70807, 70811, 70812, and 70814 zip codes.

Researchers plan to collect saliva samples from 2,000 adults, along with information on their age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, and other information. The data will help identify how those factors relate to testing rates.

“We have some ideas about why people are not getting tested. Some people may not have a way to get to a testing site. Others may not be able to take time off from work. Still others may have issues finding childcare,” said Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk, Pennington Biomedical Associate Executive Director for Population and Public Health Science. “We’re going to ask members of our Black communities what they think the barriers are to testing and what approaches they think would be best to get more people tested.“

Testing is set to begin next Wednesday (Feb. 10) at the LSU Health Baton Rouge North Clinic, 5439 Airline Highway. 

Testing hours at each site will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays. 

Other testing sites include: 

-Beacon Light Baptist Church, 7513 Prescott Road 

-Jewel J. Newman Community Center, 2013 Central Road 

-Charles R. Kelly Community Center, 3535 Riley Street 

-Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, 9700 Scenic Highway

-Louisiana Leadership Institute, 5763 Hooper Road 

-Greenwell Springs Road Regional Branch Library, 11300 Greenwell Springs Road 

-Living Faith Christian Center, 6375 Winbourne Ave. 

-S.E. Mackey Center, 6534 Ford St. 

-Scotlandville Parkway Park, 3200 Harding Blvd.

-North Sherwood Forest Community Park, 3140 N. Sherwood Forest Drive

New testing sites will likely be added to the above list and the testing efforts are expected to continue through April. 

Participants must be at least 18, able to speak and understand English, and give their permission to participate.

For additional information, please visit: www.GeauxGetTested.org and www.pbrc.edu/clinical-trials.

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