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Greenville, N.C. — Pitt County is one of two communities in the country that are part of a national study on ramping up at-home testing for coronavirus.
While it’s an exciting opportunity for all of Pitt County, community leaders said it was also a chance to protect one of the populations that has been hit hardest by the pandemic.
“We are the first jurisdiction in the nation to participate in this program,” said Dr. John Silvernail, the county’s director of public health.
Pitt County is home to rolling farmland, the city of Greenville, East Carolina University and one of the largest health departments in eastern North Carolina. County health leaders said that was why the National Institutes of Health chose the area to test what could be the future of coronavirus screening in the United States.
The ‘Say Yes COVID Test’ project is being run by the NIH and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Pitt County and Chattanooga, Tennessee, with the goal of measuring how effective free at-home tests would be at stopping the spread of the virus.
“The study only works if people do the tests on schedule, which is three days a week,” said Silvernail. “If we can identify cases early, get them into isolation early and stop that transmission sooner, then that’s one more tool to help get our arms around this thing and get it out of our communities.”
One of the groups in Greenville giving out tests is the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina, or Amexcan.
“Most Hispanics are essential workers,” said Marlene Castillo, Amexcan’s community outreach coordinator. “They’ve been working through the pandemic. They’ve never stopped.”
Castillo said the program was essential for the Hispanic and Latino community, where multi-generational homes are common, along with severe reactions to COVID-19.
“One of our promoters, her husband passed away,” Castillo said. “She had a couple of kids. If they would have had this resource, that could have been avoided.”
For Esperanza Whitfield, that threat has been at the back of her mind for months while working at her restaurant, El Azador.
Whitfield said she picked up her at-home testing kit this week.
“Three members of my household work here,” Whitfield said. “This will help us so, if we do get it, we can catch it in time so we can isolate and don’t pass it to them.”
Whitfield said that, after all of the suffering the pandemic has caused, the at-home tests could be the lifeline the Hispanic community has been looking for.
“If I really commit to it, I think it would bring me the peace of mind that I’m not bringing anything into my home,” Whitfield said.
Silvernail said the NIH could decide on expanding the testing program within the next few months.
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