By John Ramos

OAKLAND (KPIX) — A COVID-19 testing event at a church in Oakland Saturday morning was looking for people who are infected but it also highlighted the importance of discovering the people who aren’t.

Saturday’s testing at Oakland’s Acts Full Gospel Church looked different from the one held in June. Back then, cars filled the parking lot and were backed up into the street. This time it was quieter, less urgent but Dr. Kim Rhoads, event supervisor and UCSF professor of epidemiology, said testing at a pop-up site like the church can yield valuable information for those studying the disease.

“The reason it’s different is because we’re testing first-time testers,” she said. “So we’re capturing people that are not in their data sets.”

Dr. Rhoads, who is African American herself, said Black people may trust coming to the church more than they do the medical establishment. She said that, as they test more in the community, a mysterious trend is emerging. African Americans as a group have a much lower rate of infection.

“We’ve tested close to 900 people at this point and we’ve had five positives. Five,” Dr. Rhoads said.

For Black people who do contract the disease the death rate is much higher than average. Dr. Rhoads says that may be physiological or the result of inferior health care options, it hasn’t been studied. Brondon Reems, a pastor at another Oakland church, stopped by for a coronavirus antibody test and said that, by and large, Black people are taking the threat seriously.

“Sure, there’s a population of young people and different ones who are not,” he said, “but the majority of us are trying to listen to the science, trying to follow the rules and do what we need to do.”

Right now, the researchers’ questions revolve around who is getting the disease but Dr. Rhoads said that may be missing the point.

“As we’ve been through a number of test locations around the city and seen the same thing over and over again, I’m starting to wonder, should we be asking the question: ‘What is it that is going right in the African American community with regard to this pandemic?’” she said. “If a community is doing something right, that should be a model for other communities.”

It may turn out that success in fighting the disease will depend on studying those who are not getting it as much as those who are.

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