Sonoma County health advocates distribute 120,000 free rapid tests to low-income and Latin American families

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In hopes of mitigating the disproportionate impact of another winter wave of COVID-19, a coalition of local health advocates is distributing more than 100,000 rapid tests to disadvantaged and low-income Latin American families in County of Sonoma.

The effort comes at a critical time when residents of Sonoma County are preparing for Christmas and New Years gatherings, and the threat of a new, more transmissible COVID-19 variant is quickly emerging.

“We know this omicron variant comes at the worst time,” said Dr Panna Lossy, founder of IsoCare Network, a local nonprofit that has helped struggling families self-isolate and self-quarantine. safely.

“We are really trying to empower everyone to get as much information as possible and to help people be safer during this really dangerous time,” Lossy said. “The people of Sonoma County who have been hit hardest by this pandemic on multiple occasions are the residents of Latinx and low-income essential workers and their families. “

The local effort was already underway when President Joe Biden said on Tuesday the government would buy half a billion rapid coronavirus tests and distribute them free to Americans, as part of his administration’s response amid a wave of new cases of the highly contagious omicron variant.

Lossy, whose organization is part of the local collaboration, said over-the-counter antigen tests, such as Abbott’s BinaxNow and Ellume COVID-19 home test, are an important tool to help control the pandemic. But she said the cost of these tests, around $ 25 for a two-test kit, can be prohibitive for low-income residents.

Lossy and others involved in the distribution effort are targeting underserved populations with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections, as well as those in collective living environments and large families. Other groups include people who plan to meet for faith-based activities and people involved in organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

“We’re really focusing, from an equity perspective, on those who may have increased cost barriers,” said Dr. Jason Cunningham, CEO of West County Health Centers, a key partner in the collaboration.

Cunningham said the tests, numbering 120,000, are professional grade and come from the state Department of Public Health. He said West County health centers had obtained a federal waiver to distribute the tests to community organizations across the county.

Unlike rapid tests purchased from local pharmacies, state-supplied tests are supplied in boxes of 40 tests per box kit with a single vial of chemical reagent. Cunningham and Lossy said this is a problem in the distribution effort and steps need to be taken to ensure those who receive them have sufficient testing needs.

These could be large families or groups planning to get together over the holidays or attend a large group event. For families, Lossy said the minimum requirement is that they have at least four members and be low-income.

“We really want to encourage people to use them now and not accumulate them,” Lossy said, adding that the 120,000 tests have an expiration date of Jan. 13.

In addition to the West County health centers and the IsoCare network, other key partners in the distribution effort are the CURA project and the Healthcare Foundation. Many churches in the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa and other denominations participate in the distribution, as well as groups such as Redwood Empire Food Bank, Comida Para Todos, Graton Day Labor Center, Petaluma People Services, and River to Coast Child Services.

On Monday afternoon, Redwood Empire Food Bank distributed test kits with boxes of food to low-income families at Martin Luther King Park in Santa Rosa.

Allison Goodwin, director of programs for the food bank, said families are invited when registering for the food distribution if they want a test kit. Those who accept a test kit are instructed on how to use them and informed of the expiration date.

“They need to understand that they really are the facilitator in their environment or home that makes sure everyone is tested,” Goodwin said. The food bank has received 2,000 tests, or 52 boxes, and plans to distribute all of them by Wednesday, she said.

Mario Castillo-Guido, one of the founders of the Comida Para Todos pantry, or Food for All, has already distributed 85 box kits to families in the Sonoma Valley. He reached out to locals through social media and was inundated with requests.

“I get people who say they can’t find them at the store or that they are very expensive,” he said, adding that he only had 15 boxes left.

To ensure that the test kits are not wasted, the Castillo-Guido organization has set up ad hoc test sites in neighborhoods and apartment complexes, where one or two people are in charge of administer the tests and ensure that they are used correctly. He said it’s a form of empowering local residents to take charge of their health needs.


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