HUNTINGTON — More than 600 people were tested in Cabell and Kanawha counties Friday during the first day of free COVID-19 testing provided by the state. Testing continues Saturday.
In Kanawha County, 385 people were tested at the Schoenbaum Family Enrichment Center in Charleston, according to the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. In Cabell County, 290 tests were performed at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Huntington.
Dr. Michael Kilkenny, medical director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, said it wasn’t quite as many as he had hoped for. His goal was 1,000 tests over two days, but he said he felt good knowing people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to testing were included.
“What matters is, did we get the right people? Did we get the right population, and did it serve them?” he said.
Although open and free for all, even those not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the target audience is the medically underserved. The testing also is part of an effort to address the virus disproportionately affecting people of color in the state and nation.
Although African Americans make up only 3.6% of West Virginia’s population, they account for 7.3% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state — 26% of those patients have been hospitalized, compared to just 14.3% of white patients. In Cabell County, 11.9% of all cases are people of color, despite making up only about 5% of the population. In Kanawha County, 26.2% of all cases are people of color, despite them being about 10% of the population.
“We were getting the population when I was there this morning,” Kilkenny said. “The neighborhood is really a great neighborhood, full of very vibrant and caring people. We want to serve that neighborhood. It might be an inconvenience for those living on Ninth Avenue but, from the feedback from people who walked up, everyone was cheerful and everyone seemed to be positive about the aspects.”
The Huntington Black Pastors Association assisted county health officials in getting the word out about testing, Kilkenny added.
Testing also was conducted in Monongalia (376 tests) and Marion (303 tests) counties. Testing continues in all four counties from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said Friday during Gov. Jim Justice’s daily COVID-19 briefing that the state was beginning more aggressive testing in the hopes of getting a better grasp on the prevalence of the virus within the state. Because of limited supplies, testing has been limited mainly to those experiencing symptoms.
Also Friday, state health officials unveiled an updated dashboard for COVID-19 data, which includes more details on a county level, such as recovered cases. The new dashboard, state Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp said, accounts for new changes in technology and national definitions.
The DHHR recently began receiving serology-based laboratory results, frequently referred to as antibody testing. Serology-based test results will not be included in the dashboard reporting of confirmed laboratory results, but they will be reported separately on the county and lab tests tabs.
Serology testing offers a different tool for understanding disease occurrence in communities, Slemp said.
In alignment with updated definitions from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the dashboard now includes probable cases. Although a small portion of the cases to date, probable cases are people who have symptoms and either serologic (antibody) or a link to a confirmed case, but no confirmatory test.
Public health takes all the same precautions for probable cases as confirmed cases, Slemp said, so those are now included. Ohio and Kentucky have included probable cases in their counts for some time.
Slemp said the changes would lead to a dramatic one-time increase of positive cases and a decrease in the lab results received Friday. As of 5 p.m., there were 102 new positives reported, including probable cases.