Alexandria, VA

The little boy in the blue hooded jacket cried out as a long cotton swap poked deep into his nostril.

It only took a second on a recent afternoon, as his masked mother held him inside a Neighborhood Health COVID-19 testing facility outside Casa Chirilagua on Mount Vernon Avenue in Arlandria. The boy and his mother made an appointment for him online and walked to the site, checked in with staff wearing protective gear and walked over to the tent with a plexiglass shield separating them from the health official.

There was a small round of applause for the child, who waved afterward as he was led away and said, “Okay, goodbye. Thank you.”

The drive-thru testing site is one of four currently being offered by appointment only to Neighborhood Health’s 30,000 patients, many of whom are low income and are uninsured or on Medicaid. The other locations are located outside the Casey Health Center at 1200 North Howard Street; at the facility at 6677 Richmond Highway in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County and the Merrifield Center at 8221 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive in Fairfax.

“We really felt that we needed to expand testing for our patient population,” Dr. Basim Khan, Neighborhood Health’s executive director, told ALXnow. “I think we’re in the 200 test range per week at this point. We’re definitely ramping up.”

The facilities conducted more than 400 tests over the last three weeks, and Khan said that 55% of the test results are coming back positive and that test results come back within 48 hours.

“That’s actually really high. If you compare it to the broader positive rate in Northern Virginia, which is 24%,” he said. “Our patients are testing positive at more than twice the rate of the broader patient population in Northern Virginia getting tested for COVID-19.”

Vehicle-side COVID-19 testing is also available at Inova Primary Care – Old Town by appointment only, and the Alexandria Hospital is preparing for a surge of COVID-19 patients.

Neighborhood Health’s patients are predominantly Hispanic, and Latinos have been hit particularly hard in the area, Khan said.

“They have a lot of frontline jobs that require exposure to a lot of people,” he said. “They have to take a bus to go to work a lot of the time, and they live in homes or apartments with a lot more people.”

Neighborhood Health is a nonprofit federally qualified community health center, with multiple locations throughout the region. The organization started more than 20 years ago in the Presidential Greens Apartments on Mount Vernon Avenue — a stone’s throw from where the COVID-19 testing site now is. Most of the care that is provided has been converted to telemedicine, while some in-person visits are still being allowed.

Khan said that it’s a challenging time, and that some of his staff of 250 have tested positive for the virus.

“It’s stressful. A lot of our staff come from the same communities that our patients come from,” he said. “Some of them have been affected and tested positive and had to be out of work. Fortunately, they’re doing fine.”

Khan said that Neighborhood health is also delivering food to COVID-positive patients at home, and keeping close tabs on their progress.

“Some of our patients with COVID-19 might do fairly well for first week, and then on the second week they get worse,” Khan said. “We’re checking in with them regularly to make sure that there’s no clinical deterioration, and if there is, then we can tell them to go to the hospital.”

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