Nearly half of the St. Louis residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Tuesday are in predominantly black north St. Louis communities where health disparities are greatest and access to doctors is lacking.
City data shows there are 440 positive cases, with the highest number, 52, in ZIP code 63115, which includes the Mark Twain, Penrose and Greater Ville neighborhoods.
The high numbers in north St. Louis are getting attention from local leaders. To date, there are only two sites in the area where people who don't have a primary care doctor can be tested for free — Affinia Healthcare and CareSTL Health. As is the case elsewhere, a pre-screening call is required before a person can get a testing appointment.
Affinia Healthcare opened a drive-thru and walk-up testing site at its Biddle location last week, and CareSTL Health began coronavirus testing on Monday at its Martin Luther King Drive location. Its 2425 North Whittier St. location will open a drive-thru testing site on Wednesday.
'A microcosm of the macrocosm'
When it comes to access to health care, many residents in north St. Louis rely on their local Federally Qualified Health Centers, because there are no major hospitals in the immediate area. These FQHCs provide primary health care services to predominantly low-income areas.
People who already use FQHCs can get tested there, but only after a pre-screening call and an appointment, Mayor Lyda Krewson said.
Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward, said neglect is common for the ZIP code he represents: 63115.
“This is not the only high number that my community is familiar with. It is familiar with a high number of unemployment. It is familiar with a high number of the lack of access to quality health care, the lack of access to quality education and familiar with the lack of economic development,” Collins-Muhammad said. “And when you ignore a community for so long, or you leave it in a condition it is in, then problems will arise.
“It is a microcosm of the macrocosm problem that exists in our city as it relates to north St. Louis,” he said.
The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention suggests people who are most susceptible to the illness are the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. North St. Louis’ predominately African American communities are familiar with those as well.
Kendra Holmes, Affinia Healthcare's chief operating officer, said the area is home to some of the highest numbers of people with chronic diseases and health conditions in the region.
In addition to the high number of COVID-19 cases in 63115, there are 37 cases in the 63116 ZIP code in south St. Louis, which includes Tower Grove South, Bevo and Dutchtown, not predominantly African American communities.
When the first few cases of COVID-19 appeared in the city, Alderwoman Pam Boyd, D-27th Ward, said the early cases alarmed her because she knew the communities that she represented were not equipped to take on the virus. The scarcity of health care facilities, testing supplies and professional staff worried her.
She said that with the high number of diseases and illness sitting in one pocket of the city, the area should not have been one of the last to receive testing sites.
“We were already behind the eight ball when this already hit, and when the coronavirus came around it became worse,” Boyd said. “As usual, we are always left out. We [north St. Louis] are the afterthought.”
In an interview for the Politically Speaking podcast, Krewson said:
“We all know that there are health disparities in terms of access to health care that most adversely affect the lower-income folks in our city, in our state, in our country for that matter, so perhaps seeing additional cases is an extension of that already existing disparity.”
Krewson pointed to “a number of” FQHCs as providing primary care to low-income residents.
“All of those centers are doing testing for folks who are their patients,” she said. “In addition, my office worked very hard to have at least two testing sites that would be open to anyone, whether they were a patient of a particular FQHC or not.”
For pre-screening contact:
- CareSTL Health, 314-367-5820
- Affinia Healthcare, 314-833-2777
Rachel Lippman and Jason Rosenbaum contributed to the report.
Follow Andrea Henderson on Twitter: @drebjournalist
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