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Richmond Area Lags Behind in COVID-19 Testing

Lab with stacked cardboard boxes
Testing has lagged behind in Richmond, but city health officials say they have plans for walk-in clinics to expand testing access. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

While the majority of confirmed coronavirus cases have been in Northern Virginia, there’s also been more testing there than anywhere else in the state. A new breakdown of state data shows a lag in testing for COVID-19 in the Richmond area.

Dr. Danny Avula, director of Richmond City and Henrico County Health Districts, said in a press conference Tuesday that he’s planning a series of walk-in testing clinics to reach more low-income residents next week, likely to be held in public housing resource centers.

“We’ve done drive-through clinics, and so have a system set for those,” Avula said. “Obviously to try to target a different demographic who may not have as ready access to transportation, these will be walk-in clinics.”

Avula said he’s still working out the logistics of how the clinics will operate, as well as days, times and locations of operation. He says they are planning to have testing sites in Henrico too.

According to a new analysis of Richmond City data from the local health district announced late Tuesday, the majority of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infections so far have been in people who are African American or identify as black. They accounted for 62% of confirmed cases, compared to 24% for white residents. Race was missing in about 10% of cases, and people of other or mixed races accounted for less than 5% of infections. 

Statewide data is limited on demographics. According to the Virginia Department of Health, African Americans or people who identify as black make up about 17 percent of reported coronavirus cases, while about 30 percent are white. Nearly 43 percent of cases do not have demographic data reported. 

Avula also confirmed Tuesday that 15 long-term care facilities across the two jurisdictions have confirmed COVID-19 cases. That includes the Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Henrico County, where 45 patients have died after testing positive for the coronavirus

“This is a disease that spreads at high rates in an elderly, vulnerable population,”Avula said Tuesday. “What we’re seeing in congregate care facilities is that asymptomatic spread is an even more significant part of transmission than we realized.” 

Avula said while the state continues to prioritize testing individuals experiencing coronavirus symptoms, he said tests are being made available to asymptomatic residents of long-term care facilities with the help of VCU and UVA.