Sarah Fentem, June 10, 2020
St. Louis and St. Louis County officials are urging people who may have contracted the coronavirus to get tested, even if they don’t have a cough, fever or other common symptoms.
County Executive Sam Page said Wednesday that two county-run health centers will begin providing free testing to people without symptoms on Monday. And St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson announced last week that asymptomatic people can now be tested for the virus for free at federally qualified health centers in the city and county.
Previously, testing has only been available to people who had symptoms or had been in contact with someone who was positive for the virus.
“We have in the past focused on symptomatic patients or patients who have a known exposure,” Page said. “As we’ve been able to purchase more tests, we’re going to focus on a containment mode.”
That “containment” strategy centers on providing widespread access to testing for the virus. Once someone tests positive, they can know to stay away from crowds and public places to prevent spreading the virus. Contract tracers who work for city and county governments track down people who have been exposed to those who tested positive for the virus so they can get tested as well.
“Community testing is critical to the health of our residents, and increased testing plays an important role in providing data to assist in our decision making process as we continue our phased in reopening of the city,” Krewson said when she announced the city’s testing plans Friday.
Testing people without symptoms is a major piece of keeping the virus under control, according to area public health officials. People can have the virus that causes COVID-19 even if they don’t have symptoms or feel sick, said Angela Brown, CEO of the Regional Health Commission, which has partnered with the city to offer free testing at federally qualified health centers.
“Just because you don’t have symptoms doesn’t mean you can’t spread the disease,” she said. “It’s important for individuals to understand that so we continue social distancing, masks and other precautions to stop the spread. Because we could be passing it along and not even knowing that’s happening.”
Page urged grocery store clerks, nursing home staff, delivery drivers and other workers who interact with the public to get tested regularly.
Ten federally qualified health centers will offer testing to people without symptoms: Betty Jean Kerr People’s Health Center in Florissant and Family Care Health Centers in St. Louis and at multiple Affinia Healthcare and CareSTL Health locations in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
Federally qualified health centers are government-supported clinics that offer primary and mental health care regardless of patients’ ability to pay.
Several of the clinics are in north St. Louis, where the population is more than 70% black and where coronavirus testing sites were slow to open. Black people make up about half of the city’s overall population but roughly two-thirds of its confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, according to city health department data.
“We are hopefully reaching many of our highly impacted areas and hot spots,” she said. “If you live in north city, our African American communities and other people of color have been drastically impacted by COVID-19 disproportionately. I know many of our health centers are targeting those communities.”
St. Louis County will offer free tests for county residents at its two government-run health clinics in Berkeley and Sunset Hills starting Monday.
All patients need to call ahead to make an appointment.