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Navigating Through COVID-19 Testing Inequities

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By: Anthony Ledford, Lidixe Montoya, Nicole Wallsch and Lynn Buske

It is most likely not surprising to hear, if you have any sort of awareness of social injustices, that there are inequities in healthcare access and services – even here in the Chippewa Valley. So,

When COVID-19 hit both JONAH and the Eau Claire City-County Health Department strategized with some ways to respond to a higher need in our community. The Health Department formed a vulnerable populations group, with help from JONAH, to ensure that Health Department communications were reaching who they need to in the ways needed. JONAH did a community survey to assess needs and created a meme series to generate awareness of health inequities.

As COVID-19 raged on, more needed to be done. The numbers were rising, information on the virus changed daily, and more available testing was necessary.

Through federal funds the Eau Claire City-County Health Department started efforts to create more access to COVID-19 testing and COVID-19 education. JONAH was invited to help reach out in communication and support to Spanish-speaking and Immigrant residents, people of low income or homeless, persons with conviction histories, persons of color, and the LGBTQ population. Our COVID Core Team developed a plan and received funding from the health department to contract health navigators to connect with these population groups to hear their concerns and ensure any barriers they face were reported back to the health department, and help produce messaging to the community about these navigators and COVID-19 testing access – all in November and December.

The navigators we brought on already had the relationships developed that we needed and were eager to help make a difference here. These were: Anthony Ledford (EXPO member and JONAH criminal justice task force chair), Nichole Wallsch (EXPO member and FREE Organizer), Lidixe Montoya (Immigration Task Force member and community advocate), and Mary Catherine Proctor (longtime community advocate).

Each of these navigators received training from the Eau Claire City/County Health Department and work with other navigators from other organizations. Through their outreach and conversations to people in this population, particularly people who want testing but are not able to, they shared what they learned about people’s barriers to testing:

  • People have a fear of getting tested and getting a positive result, because it will take them off a job and then they won’t be able to survive and send money to their families. 
  • The educational level of some residents prevent them from accessing information – they cannot read or do not have Facebook. 
  • Some of the people in the area do not speak Spanish but, rather, other languages, and information is not available in those languages.
  • Some people already have little to no income and are worried about money/job/food.
  • The social stigma is something that prevents people from wanting to get tested.
  • There are some residents who do not believe COVID-19 is real.
  • There is also a general fear of getting tested. Either generating a fear about their health or for doing something they feel uninformed on.
  • Transportation access was a barrier the navigators heard about time and time again, people to not have the ability to travel to the testing sites.
  • Simply having a lack of knowledge around testing prevents people from getting tested.
  • Some people do not even want to know the information needed to get tested.
  • If they test positive they will not be able to celebrate the holidays.
  • They are worried about living arrangements, and fear that testing positive will either give them nowhere to go or being kicked out.
  • Some individuals worry of the government controlling the testing or that information is being given to the government.
  • A few people were also concerned that microchips or harmful things were put in the vaccine.

JONAH COVID Core team, along with navigators guidance, are attempting to help counter these barriers by reporting findings to Eau Claire City-County Health Department, trying to find out what these other languages are, get more leaders and partner organizations involved, stressing in social media outreach the importance of the isolation versis the temporary loss of income and then the resources available in the community, and working with Citizen Action’s Health Equity Team to learn from them and share their messaging.

We will continue to help improve inequities around COVID-19 testing and raise awareness through the end of December. We are proud of how quickly we were able to connect with the right people, do deep outreach and mobilize with partners to address this. This project has demonstrated some of our strengths as an organization. We are hopeful that 2021 will bring about positive changes in health access and programming because of this work and that COVID-19 starts to dissipate. We are grateful for our partnership with the EC City-County Health Department.