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Helping vulnerable communities access COVID-19 tests

A dermatologist launches a COVID-19 testing site in a historically underserved area of her city.

Dr. Okoye's story

Ginette Okoye, MD, FAAD
Ginette Okoye, MD, FAAD, Chair of the Department of Dermatology, Howard University College of Medicine
The COVID-19 pandemic hit Washington, D.C., hard in early April 2020. At the time there were relatively few testing sites for the coronavirus, particularly for those most vulnerable to it.

I lead the dermatology clinic at Howard University and when it temporarily closed as a result of the virus, I couldn’t sit back and watch the community suffer. My expertise is in treating patients with skin of color—and knowing that COVID-19 disproportionately affects Black and brown communities, I wanted to get involved however I could.

In the early days of the pandemic, I led clinical staff and my dermatology residents in quickly establishing a dedicated community testing site in a historically underserved area that had the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths in the city. It took less than a week from idea to opening the location, which was crucial as the number of cases rapidly increased.

With the new site up and running, community members were able to schedule appointment via phone. We didn’t require referrals, insurance, or even identification, all of which can be barriers to care. At its peak, the site was open four days a week and averaged more than 100 tests per day.

Since establishing the community testing site, we opened another location at a nearby church to provide more options to local residents. We also used what we learned to launch an employee-testing program at Howard University, ensuring that everyone from professors to janitorial staff could work safely and reduce community transmission.

The family medicine physician's perspective

Mark S. Johnson, MD, MPH

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, physicians stepped into new roles to mitigate the spread of and improve care for people affected by this public health problem. Dr. Okoye was instrumental in quickly launching community testing sites in areas of Washington, D.C., hit hardest by the pandemic that had no hospital and few testing options. Every step of the way, Dr. Okoye collaborated with her colleagues to help meet the community’s needs during this trying time.”

─ Mark S. Johnson, MD, MPH, Professor and Chair, Department of Community and Family Medicine, Howard University College of Medicine

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