Testing (copy)

Vehicles line up for free COVID-19 testing Saturday at UVA Primary Care Commonwealth Medical Center in Culpeper County.

More than 200 people with symptoms of the novel coronavirus received free COVID-19 testing Saturday during a drive-thru event in Culpeper County.

The collaborative event was held outside University of Virginia Primary Care Commonwealth Medical Center on Bennett Road across from Eastern View High School.

Eastern View’s Culpeper County Sports Complex hosted a far-reaching Empowering Culpeper food distribution, one of two held each month during the COVID-19 era. To stem the spread of the coronavirus, Eastern View did not hold an in-person graduation this weekend as it normally would have.

Many people who received food at Eastern View also came to the U.Va. site for a test, said community organizer Yanet Garcia, who lives in the town of Culpeper. Multiple people arrived in each vehicle, with each person needing a test, Garcia said.

About three-quarters of those seeking tests were from the local Hispanic community, she said, manning a table at the entrance to the testing site. The event was held in the large parking lot of the medical complex operated by the University of Virginia.

“So far, we’ve done 100 tests,” Garcia said in the early morning, “so they went to get more kits. Now we have 20 more cars, and each car has two to three people.”

U.Va. Physicians Group partnered with the primary care office and U.Va. Medical Center and community groups to hold the free program in Culpeper County, where Spanish speakers have been disproportionately sickened by COVID-19.

“Ultimately, our goal is to reach the Hispanic population with testing access that was broadly discussed during last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting,” NOVANT UVA Culpeper Medical Center President Donna Staton said last week.

Efforts are underway to coordinate food delivery to families in isolation as dozens already are in Culpeper, Garcia said. That need will increase in coming days as test results come in, by Monday at the latest, she said. Those who test positive will need food delivered.

Garcia, who has worked with the Drive Virginia Forward movement, described the impact of the illness on local Latinos as “a bad situation.”

Many people have not taken notice of the problem, she said.

“Come Monday, we don’t know how many families we will add to our list for food delivery,” Garcia said.

The community’s response to the illness among local residents has been substantial.

The United for Culpeper Food Drive is now accepting donations through May 22 and hygiene items for local people affected by COVID-19. Drop-off locations include Latin Tax in Manassas, Dona Tere Restaurant in Woodbridge and Fredericksburg, Culpeper Baptist Church and Culpeper Police Department.

A Facebook relief fund has raised more than $10,000 in recent days, with $5,000 matched by Boots and Melissa Feather of Demolition Services Inc., situated steps from Saturday’s COVID-19 testing site. Another local business has agreed do the same, Feather said in a recent post.

The fund most recently helped pay a utility bill for a sick, out-of-work mom. “A lot of them are recovering,” Feather said, but they cannot work.

“They need our prayers,” she said, and they also need financial support, which has been coming in locally from various community members.

Jason Yarashes, lead attorney for the farm-worker program of Legal Aid Justice Center Richmond, was at the testing site in Culpeper on Saturday. He advocates for Virginia’s agricultural workers, who he said face significant challenges, particularly during the pandemic.

“It’s going excellent. We’re so happy folks showed up,” Yarashes said, noting a collaborative spirit among organizers and volunteers. “We’re showing people are taken care of.”

The attorney said one vehicle’s occupants traveled from more than an hour and 20 minutes away to get free tests because they were unavailable in their locality, an issue for many vulnerable low-wage workers, he said.

“This should be happening everywhere,” Yarashes said.

Culpeper County Emergency Services Director Bill Ooten came to provide support. He and Garcia met for the first time.

“I can’t thank you enough for the outreach,” he said to her. “As we can see, the demand is here.”

The Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office helped publicize the event and encouraged people to get tested, via a social media video post in Spanish by Detective Maria Rodriguez.“Sheriff Jenkins has asked that this message be made to our Hispanic community,” Rodriguez said on the agency’s Facebook page. “The Sheriff’s Office has received reports that our local Hispanic neighbors feel afraid to participate in COVID-19 testing events being planned and held in Culpeper. We want to reassure the community that you do not need to be afraid to show up and be tested.”

Jenkins is concerned for the health and safety of the entire community, Rodriguez said.

“We have a clear and simple message: ICE and our deputies will NOT be looking for ANYONE who shows up for testing, or anyone who comes with them. Anyone trying to make you afraid to seek testing or medical help is spreading false information,” she said in the video.

“Many of you know me. I’ve lived in this community my entire life right alongside many of you,” Rodriguez added. “Testing is an important part of fighting this virus. Sheriff Jenkins wants to reassure you that no one from our office or ICE is going to be looking for anyone at these testing sites. If you see a deputy there it is only to help the event go smoothly. That is all.”

She invited people with concerns to call 540/727-7520 and ask for her or Karen Ramirez.

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