“I don’t even want to think about it,” she said with a shudder. “I might leave.”
But she had come to see whether she or her 14-year-old granddaughter, Omariah, had the virus that had killed more than 2,360 people in the District, Virginia and Maryland.
So, she stayed.
Carroll was one of the first patients to receive a novel coronavirus test Tuesday at Howard University’s community health center in Ward 7, established last year to address health disparities east of the Anacostia River and provide residents with services such as prenatal care, mental health care and addiction treatment.
The clinic this week launched its newest endeavor: coronavirus tests, free to anyone who wants one.
Tests will be administered by appointment between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Patients do not have to show symptoms or receive a doctor’s prescription to receive a screening — requirements that have for weeks dictated who could and could not be tested for the virus.
“We want to eliminate the obstacles so more people can be tested because we believe everyone should be tested,” Hugh E. Mighty, Howard University vice president of clinical affairs, said in a statement. “We want to screen our community neighbors in the areas where there are higher incidents of hypertension, heart disease and diabetes because those preexisting conditions are linked to the higher incidents of coronavirus that we’ve seen in African American communities.”
Howard officials said the goal is to test about 200 patients a week, primarily from Wards 7 and 8, home to about 30 percent of city residents with the virus and 35 percent of those who have died of covid-19.
“We need to protect the most vulnerable among us,” said university President Wayne A.I. Frederick, who also was tapped to lead a committee advising Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s ReOpen DC initiative on equity, vulnerable populations and disparity reduction.
City officials have touted the opening of the testing center as a way to reach underserved populations and address the disproportionate rate at which the coronavirus is killing the city’s black residents.
Bank of America gave $1 million to fund the testing center — a commitment Larry Di Rita, the company’s president for the greater Washington area, said would likely continue should the need arise.
“We want to help the community recover — however that looks,” Di Rita said before heading into the clinic to receive a test himself. “We’ll follow Dr. Frederick’s lead as far as determining the success of the program.”
On the clinic’s first day, doctors and nurses in blue gowns and plastic face shields had tested about two dozen patients by noon.
But the phones rarely stopped ringing.
“Are you showing any symptoms? Coughing? You breathing okay?” asked one health-care worker, her gloved hands holding the phone receiver to her face, covered by a turquoise mask.
Howard has been relying on city officials, the news media and churches to get the word out on testing.
Some residents, like Rogelio Lopez, 45, were told by their employers to get tested.
Lopez, a custodian, said he has continued to work throughout the pandemic. He has tried to quash worries about being exposed to the virus by tuning out the news and avoiding the count of cases in the District, the United States or Mexico, where his family lives.
Then a co-worker began to cough.
“I feel fine,” Lopez said in Spanish as he sat in the waiting room Tuesday. “But at my job, they told me to get a test so we know it’s safe for me to keep working.”
Lopez, who lives nearby, said he was grateful the clinic offered tests without a doctor’s note. He doesn’t go to the doctor often, he said.
Neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River — a stretch encompassing the poorest and most heavily African American population in the nation’s capital — have for years grappled with some of the District’s most challenging health disparities. Wards 7 and 8 have the city’s highest rates of infant mortality, and those who live there have some of the lowest levels of access to health-care services.
Ward 8, which is 89 percent black, has the District’s highest per capita rate of coronavirus-related deaths. Ward 7, where the clinic sits, is 92 percent black and has the third-highest covid-19 death rate among the city’s eight wards.
The coronavirus has “shone a huge spotlight” on health disparities that predate the disease, Frederick said.
Carroll, who lives nearby in Southeast, said she has been quarantining at home for weeks. She said she worries about being exposed to the virus when she or her family members run errands. Her neighbors, she said, have not been taking the threat of the coronavirus as seriously as she has.
“I’m definitely worried,” she said from behind a light blue surgical mask. “We have people who just think it can’t happen to them, so they’re just doing what they always do. Nobody’s wearing masks, nobody’s keeping their distance.”
It takes three to five days for patients to receive their test results, officials said.
Carroll said she’ll be waiting for hers at home, with her family, praying the virus continues to spare the people she loves.
To make an appointment to be tested, call 202-865-2119 and select option three.