GCC Calls On Pharmacies For More COVID-19 Testing Sites In Cleveland

A map of pharmacies around Cleveland surveyed by GCC.
A map of the pharmacy locations surveyed by Greater Cleveland Congregations members. Yellow sites do not provide COVID-19 testing, while green sites do.[Greater Cleveland Congregations]

Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC) is calling on chain pharmacies to provide more COVID-19 testing within the City of Cleveland.

The organization says current testing focuses on more affluent suburbs and exacerbates existing racial health inequities.

GCC surveyed 29 CVS, RiteAid and Walgreens locations in the Cleveland area and found that while only three locations in the city were offering testing, sites were widely available in suburbs. Congregation members have voiced concerns over the lack of available testing sites, said Rev. Ronald Maxwell of Affinity Missionary Baptist Church.

“That each of them had to leave not just their neighborhoods, but drive through the suburbs, to the exurbs to get tested,” Maxwell said. “This, by definition, is structural racism and it must be changed.”

The sites also create additional accessibility problems for those unable to drive themselves or who do not have a vehicle, said GCC member Danielle DeRooy, who helped survey pharmacies.

“At all three of these pharmacies, the testing sites are drive-up only,” DeRooy said. “You must be driving the car and you may not enter the store.”

When employees were how test sites were chosen, DeRooy said she was told corporate made the decisions based on factors like parking lot size.

But the focus on suburbs outside of Cleveland does not prioritize populations that need options for getting tested, said GCC member DeAnna DeForest, who surveyed locations.

“With African Americans dying at a disproportionate rate due to this virus, it makes no sense,” DeForest said. “They can’t go get tested, and that’s just not right.”

The congregations are asking CVS, RiteAid and Walgreens to increase testing and MinuteClinic sites in neighborhoods of color, for each chain to give $5 million to Cuyahoga County for additional testing and to provide PPE to customers.

The pharmacies have not responded to GCC’s letters or an ideastream request for comment.

GCC has launched its own initiative to combat the lack of testing in neighborhoods of color, called the Color of Health, which begins next week, said Pastor Jawanza Colvin with Olivet Institutional Baptist Church.

Color of Health provided testing will be available from 9 a.m. to noon July 16 at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, and again from 9 a.m. to noon on July 17 at Greater New Canaan Ministries. The GCC sites can test about 150 people each for either walk-up or drive-up appointments, Colvin said, and 15 more congregations are signed on to take part in the initiative through August.

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