Testing where the people are

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Republicans ‘of color’ lead the way

State Representative David Santiago, left, Daytona Beach Fire Chief Dru Driscoll and Daytona Beach City commissioner Quanita May go over the logistics of the walk-in coronavirus testing center set up in the heart of Daytona Beach’s Black community.
CHARLES W. CHERRY II / FLORIDA COURIER

SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

DAYTONA BEACH – An-all-hands on-deck effort including a disgruntled freelance journalist, meetings among Black organizations, and coordination between two non-White Republicans resulted in Gov. Ron DeSantis providing coronavirus testing in an underserved, predominately Black population in Daytona Beach.

Commentary helped

Things started with a scathing guest commentary written in last week’s Daytona Times – the Florida Courier’s sister Black weekly newspaper in Daytona Beach – by James Harper, a former Daytona Times reporter. He didn’t spare anyone’s feelings.

“Why are the Black leaders in Volusia County not doing more to have more sites for testing?” he wrote. Harper had written a similar posting on Facebook, but his commentary had gotten little attention there.

“It appears the Black officials are worrying that Whites will think they are playing the race card if they vote to put a testing site in the Black community,” he wrote in the Daytona Times.

Possible ‘genocide’

Harper quoted Black civil rights and community leaders who thought that lack of testing was “genocide” targeting Black Americans. He cited pre-existing health conditions, low income, and lack of insurance as reasons why the virus is killing Blacks at a higher rate. Then he criticized the majority-Black Daytona Beach City Commission.

“The city has a Black mayor and three Black city commissioners who don’t make decisions that obviously benefit Blacks…Daytona’s Black elected officials must do what is right for its Black voters – not because they are also Black, but because it is the right thing to do for all,” he opined.

Much like almost everywhere in America, statistics show that a disproportionate number of Blacks and Hispanics in Volusia County, which includes Daytona Beach, have tested positive for the virus at a disproportionately high rate versus Whites.

A phone call

As Harper was preparing the commentary, he called Florida State Representative David Santiago, who refers to himself “the testing guy,” because he has been urging widespread testing since the beginning of the pandemic.

Harper and Santiago know each other, but Santiago doesn’t represent Daytona Beach’s Black community in the Florida House. Republican Elizabeth Fetterhoff, who lives west of Daytona Beach, does.

Still, Harper made Santiago aware of the lack of readily available walk-up testing in Daytona Beach’s Black community. Previous coronavirus testing required online registration, an advance appointment, was drive-through only, and was not located within walking distance of many Black residents in Daytona.

Santiago started making calls to local NAACP leadership and elected officials, including one to Daytona Beach City Commissioner Quanita May to get insight into her zone, which is in the predominantly Black 32114 zip code.

Instant approval

Once the gubernatorial office of DeSantis – another Republican – was notified, the governor’s approval was immediate, according to Santiago.

“They will set it up as a site sponsored by the state with the National Guard, and do everything that they can… All they asked for was the location. The whole site is being supported by the governor’s Emergency Management Team,” Santiago said.

The result? Free coronavirus testing is now available at the Midtown Cultural & Education Center, located in the heart of Daytona Beach’s Black community.

200 tests daily

The walk-up COVID-19 testing site opened at 9 a.m. Friday. Testing will be free to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. The site comes a week after Advent Health closed the only site in the city, a drive-through location at Daytona International Speedway.

A person doesn’t have to exhibit symptoms or be a Daytona Beach resident. The site can test up to 200 people per day and will be conducted in tents in the parking lot of the Midtown Center. Tests are done by nasal swab.

As long as necessary

According to Santiago, testing will occur for at least the next two weeks at the Midtown location.

“If the demand is there and the people are still coming, they will extend that,” Santiago told the Florida Courier.

Santiago says he told local leadership, “This is there for you. Let’s utilize this the best we can to see that as things develop, we don’t forget about this community.”

No partisanship

Santiago said the current atmosphere of political partisanship saddens him. “Obviously, I’m a Republican. But when it comes to helping people, saving lives, and doing the right thing, I don’t care if you are blue, red, independent… Let’s just figure it out and do it,” he explained.

Santiago is already thinking about bring in a second walkup test to Daytona Beach’s Black community that will determine whether a person may have gotten sick then recovered from COVID-19 and not know it.

“The antibody test will determine if you’ve been exposed to the virus,” he said. “It doesn’t say that you’re sick now. We can look at that test for the future.”

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