Flint, MI— Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Sept. 2 that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is partnering with community organizations across the state to launch 12 barrier-free COVID-19 testing sites, three of which will be in Flint.

Flint’s sites will be the Word of Life Church, Bethel United Methodist Church and Macedonia Baptist Church.

Barrier-free testing aims to eliminate hurdles that prevent underserved populations from getting tested for COVID-19, such as costs, transportation, having an I.D. or a doctor’s referral.

“This is a crucial part of our work…and will make it easier for Michiganders to access testing right near home in their own backyards,” Whitmer said.

Testing is free and will be conducted by “trusted community partners” like non-profits, churches and colleges, Whitmer said. I.D.s and appointments will not be required and testing sites will be equipped with translation services for the deaf and for those whom English is not their first language, she said.

The Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, Whitmer’s special advisory team charged with studying and combatting racial inequality, is spearheading the initiative. Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist chairs the committee.

“The Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities’ mission was to identify immediate solutions to protect the health and safety of communities of color hardest hit by COVID-19. We took it upon ourselves to look at the underlying or systemic issues that have created conditions for unnecessary suffering during this pandemic,” Gilchrist said.

This “pilot program” expands testing capabilities and removes barriers in high-risk areas, Gilchrist said.

According to data collected by MDHHS, Flint is high-risk with poor health outcomes, meaning the city has had a greater number of COVID-19 cases, more deaths and greater disparities in death.

“Not only are we dealing with having an industrial past, which contributes to our health outcomes, we’ve had a water crisis and now we’re having a pandemic on top of that water crisis. Our community has been through an awful lot, particularly these last six years. So, there are a lot of tired people,” said Suzanne Cupal, community health division director for the Genesee County Health Department.

Cupal and her team at GCHD have been coordinating efforts with MDHHS to bring the testing program to Flint.

“It’s critically important that testing be available in our community. Not only for the testing itself and identifying asymptomatic individuals but just the recognition that we need good data. Testing is really important for that,” Cupal said.

One major barrier for Flint residents is transportation, said Cupal, which is why the churches were selected as testing sites. “Geographically, they correlate to some of the areas that have had higher incidents of COVID-19,” she said.

Other barrier-free sites are located in Detroit, Albion, Ecorse, Grayling and Roseville. Twenty additional sites around Michigan are slated for the upcoming weeks.

Testing Site Information

Word of Life Church

460 W. Atherton Rd. Flint, MI  48503

Testing Times: Tuesday – Thursday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Bethel United Methodist Church

1309 N. Ballenger Hwy. Flint, MI  48504

Testing Times: Tuesday, Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Thursday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Macedonia Baptist Church

G5443 Saginaw Street Flint, MI  48505

Testing Times: Monday, Friday, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information, visit www.gchd.us/coronavirus.

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...