The COVID-19 crisis has provided powerful evidence that Nebraska must strengthen its public health outreach to minority communities. A central need at the moment is ensuring adequate virus testing and providing the results in a timely fashion.
The recent situation facing South Omaha illustrated the point. The virus threat to the Latino community is particularly great, and having a robust testing operation in South Omaha is vital. “South Omaha is the hot zone,” says Andrea Skolkin, the CEO of OneWorld, a federally qualified health center serving South Omaha residents.
A joint effort by a group of local institutions — the Douglas County Health Department, OneWorld, Nebraska Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center — operated a drive-thru testing site in South Omaha from late June till last week, providing about 300 tests daily. A high number of tests came back positive, demonstrating the importance of the testing.
But as hospitals begin to resume full operation, Nebraska Medicine personnel were no longer available to continue the site, and it closed, fueling tremendous concern in South Omaha about residents’ vulnerability to the virus.
To leave one of our area’s centers of greatest virus exposure without a major testing site would undercut our overall ability to contain the virus. News of the closure fueled angst among South Omaha residents that their needs were being neglected at a time of tremendous need.
It’s encouraging, then, that the state was able to launch a new testing site this week, at Metropolitan Community College’s South Omaha campus. The testing is free, but people first must reserve a test through TestNebraska. The assessment is available in English at testnebraska.com and in Spanish at testnebraska.com/es. Those with questions can call the TestNebraska hotline at 402-207-9377.
The start of the new testing operation also shows the continuing value to South Omaha from MCC’s extensive investment in the community.
The concern among Nebraska’s minority communities about their vulnerability to the virus has long been clear. In an online survey in May that included residents of meatpacking-centric communities such as Grand Island, Lexington, Crete and Dakota City, some 93% said their biggest worry was catching the virus at work and bringing it home to their families.
For the time being, the central need is seeing that minority communities receive adequate testing. But for the long term, Nebraska must learn from this crisis and build more effective public health outreach for all of its residents.
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