ALEXANDRIA, Va. (ABC7) — Wednesday's wet weather didn't stop a long line of people from showing at a free COVID-19 testing site on Mount Vernon Avenue in Alexandria. It was one of the few test sites throughout the DMV that wasn't forced to close or cancel due to inclement weather.
For about three and a half hours, people stood in the rain, holding umbrellas as they waited to be tested.
"That says there's still a demand for testing," said Dr. Basim Khan, who is the Executive Director of the non-profit community health center known as Neighborhood Health. "And our focus is on people who are uninsured, underinsured, and low income and disadvantaged communities."
Dr. Khan knows that demand for testing also comes as coronavirus cases are once again on the rise.
"As we've seen across the country, things seem to be getting worse," he said.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Neighborhood Health has partnered with the City of Alexandria to conduct free targeted COVID-19 testing events twice a week. You can find a list of test sites, locations, and times by clicking here.
"For us, it's about responding to the pandemic in whatever way we can in the communities most impacted by it. And what we've seen across the country is that lower income communities, communities in which people have front line jobs, take public transportation, living in crowded living in conditions, they are the ones getting impacted the most. They're getting infected in much higher numbers and even to a large extent, even dying in much larger numbers."
In Alexandria, that vulnerable population also includes the Latino community, which makes up 45 percent of the city's coronavirus cases, but just 16 percent of the city's population.
"Testing has been a big part of what we've done," he said. "We've set up five testing locations outside of clinics, and in addition to that, we've worked with community partners, most notably the City of Alexandria and the Alexandria Health Department, to provide testing within the community, to try to go to areas that might be a little more accessible to individuals and families who might not otherwise be able to access testing sites."
That's what Wednesday's testing event at Casa Chirilagua on Mount Vernon Avenue was all about. The testing site was supposed to be open from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., but there were dozens of people still in line at 4:30 p.m.
Neighborhood Health staff stayed past five p.m., making sure everyone who got in line prior to 4:30 p.m. was able to get a test. In less than four hours, they tested a total of 160 people.
"We've seen a significant spike across the country in cases. We were down to around 50,000 or 60,000 cases a day, but now we've reached 100,000 or 110,000 or 120,000 cases per day. And while in Northern Virginia the rise hasn't been as dramatic, there has been a definite increase here. About a month ago in early October in Northern Virginia, we were at about 150 to 200 cases a day, now we're almost reaching 400 cases per day," said Dr. Khan.
And among the vulnerable population served by Neighborhood Health, he says the positivity rate has climbed back up to 20 percent.
"Neighborhood Health is also seeing a higher percentage of patients who get tested come back positive," he said. "Initially in the beginning of the pandemic, it was really high. 50 to 60 percent of the people we tested, tested positive. And that's because our patient population tend to be people who are at higher risk of infection. That dropped like everyone else over the summer, down to about 10 percent positivity rate for us. And now it's risen back up to 20 percent."
He said Northern Virginia as a whole is currently sitting at a positivity rate of between six and seven percent, which is also up over the last few weeks.
"It is concerning," said Dr. Khan. "We definitely don't want to get back to the levels like we were back in the spring, when our hospitals were overburdened, when we had a lot of infections, and a lot of people dying every single day."
To learn more about Neighborhood Health and the services it provides to communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, click here.
To view the latest coronavirus data and metrics in the City of Alexandria, click here.