Initiative aims to boost COVID-19 testing for Blacks, Latinos

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Dr. Garth Graham says he hopes a lot of people get tested for the coronavirus.

Graham is trying to make sure that even under-served blacks and Latinos in impoverished Detroit have appropriate access tests for COVID-19, a key to controlling the coronavirus, restraining the resurgence that threatens Michigan and returning a semblance of normalcy to everyday life.

“Part of the challenge is getting testing to these communities,” said Graham, a former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

Dr. Garth Graham, head of Community Health and Impact at CVS Health and President of the Aetna Foundation.

As the vice president of community health for CVS Health and the president of the Aetna Foundation, which benefits community health organizations, Graham is leading an initiative by the national pharmacy chain to direct testing resources toward Black and Latino populations, including in the Detroit area.

“For a number of different reasons, we see a disproportionate impact particularly on African American and Hispanic communities across the country,” said Graham, a cardiologist.

The African American population is 29% of Michigan’s confirmed cases and 39% of the confirmed deaths. Hispanic/Latino residents make up 8% cases of the state’s cases and 2% of the deaths, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“What we really see as important is a strategy around getting testing to many of these communities," Graham said. "Testing is at the core of getting control, at the community level, of this pandemic.

“When we know where the virus impacts, we can take appropriate measures.”

Motorists go through a COVID-19 testing line at a CVS in Troy on Friday, July 10, 2020.

To help slow the spread of the coronavirus, CVS recently added eight testing sites at drive-in CVS Pharmacy stores in Michigan, bringing the total to 24. It was among 200 new locations across the country, where 1,400 testing locations have been opened since May.

The capacity for testing is up to 1.5 million per month at CVS pharmacies.

“We are trying to use as many strategies as we have available to really reach people with testing,” Graham said. “We are hoping to use our retail footprint to do that.

“We’ve set up a number of testing sites across the city, really tackling this particular issue of getting access. And, really, nationally, about 60% of the store testing sites are in areas where we have a high social vulnerability index.”

Adding to the drive-in sites, CVS Health, in cooperation with community organizations, has opened eight testing facilities across the country, including at Wayne County Community College on Fort Street in Detroit.

“We are so pleased to offer critical testing services during this time directly at our downtown campus,” said Curtis Ivery, chancellor of the Wayne County Community College District.

“We know that by partnering with CVS Health, and others, and continuing to work together, we can help our communities stay safe and healthy, and continue to lower the curve.”

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Blacks have an infection rate five times that of whites and Latinos four times higher than whites.

Across all age categories, Black people die from COVID-19 at about the same rate as whites a decade older, according to CDC statistics. Latinos fall in between.

In the 45-54 age group, white comprise 62% of the population and 22% of the deaths, according to the CDC.

Health care officials have said repeatedly since the beginning of the pandemic that no genetic differences are known to cause the discrepancies.

As she observes the city, including around her home near Belle Isle, Riana Elyse Anderson, a native of Detroit and an assistant professor of public health at the University of Michigan, observes the grave risks people continue to run as they try to return to normal routines while infection rates are increasing again in Michigan.

Last week brought an 11-week high for new cases in Michigan with 4,232 new cases confirmed over the seven-day period. New cases so far this week are on pace to be lower than last week's total.

Riana Elyse Anderson, Ph.D. , Assistant Professor, University of Michigan is a Detroiter who still lives here. She teaches public health at Michigan and researches disparities in providing health care.

Anderson, a graduate of Renaissance High School in Detroit, researches the impact of racial and ethnic disparities in care. She said she also readily sees the need for testing.

“There’s a cycle: The things that are true about Black Detroiters are true about a lot of Black Americans,” she said.

“Folks tend to live in more densely populated areas. They are more communal than others. So they tend to rely on family and neighbors more, and they are in constant contact with people.

“They are trying to provide support for each other, for maybe a church member who is sick. But in that way, you’re also opening yourself up to some of the risk, much more.

“You also have the folks who are essential workers. So they are the ones at the stores and keeping us afloat and exposing themselves to risk as well,” she said.

“So you have a lot of fundamental determinants of health that started these inequitable outcomes that we’ve seen in transmission rates.”

The availability and rate of treatment, and the mortality rates, have always been tied to the comparative lack of health care available to many non-white communities in cities like Detroit, Anderson said.

Beyond that, she said, grief and survivor’s guilt are problems particularly rife in underserved populations in the pandemic.

“Those are the things concerning me as a psychologist right now,” Anderson said. “People are just so inundated with death and loss, and the numbers just keep getting bigger and bigger, that I don’t think people are even grasping the gravity.”

She said she believes that leads some residents to act recklessly by not observing the precautions counseled by health care experts about wearing a mask and practicing protective distancing.

“I’m really shocked by that,” Anderson said. “But as a psychologist, I know there is a threshold of being able to conceptualize just how real this is.

“If it’s decimating entire families and neighborhoods, it’s kind of like, 'well, heck, I’m next anyway, let me at least hug people. Let me at least get the experience that I want out of the life that I am going to live.'

“That is what I am observing. These are my neighbors, my family members and my church folks. It’s challenging to see how people are impacted, right now, just in my social network.”

The social context is just part of what makes testing integral to the remedy for COVID-19.

“What has changed significantly, and what I am really proud of, is the messaging around testing,” Anderson said. “There is clarity about the way one can get tested.

“CVS and what it is offering, making it very clear that you can go to rapid testing and get it done that day. I’ve also seen some reports, for example from Beaumont, about testing that is not about the images of Q-tips all of the way up the brain, which is scary.

“So Beaumont has swabs to the mouth, which seems all the more simple and pretty much pain-free.”

CVS also provides the less invasive, so-called self-swab testing procedure.

Graham said CVS is putting a premium on the accessibility of testing.

“The goal here is to have a variety of ways to reach the community,” he said. “There is not one way to do this, but multiple ways of reaching people, to really try to improve access to care, access to testing, in these communities.”

The recently opened testing sites at CVS pharmacies in the Detroit area are:

•      6862 N. Michigan Ave., Detroit, MI 48209

•      15521 W. Seven Mile, Detroit, MI 48235

•      14140 Woodward, Highland Park, MI 48203

•      27050 John R. Road, Madison Heights, MI 48071

•      1980 E. Big Beaver Road, Troy, MI 48083

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recently launched an online test finder tool at, with filters that show the sites closest to the user.

The department also announced it is working with Michigan 211 to help residents find test sites and register for testing by phone.

Call the Michigan COVID-19 hotline, 888 545-6315, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and press 1 to be transferred to a 211 operator for assistance in finding a test site and to schedule an appointment at some select sites.

Staff Writers Craig Mauger and Beth LeBlanc contributed.