Covid-19 Testing in Dearborn

Visiting ACCESS on the eve of Michigan's latest shutdown

At the free Covid-19 testing site this week held in the ACCESS parking lot in Dearborn, attendance was high and Madiha Tariq has a possible theory.

“It’s the free halal turkeys,” Tariq said.

Thanks to a donation by UnitedHealth Group, around 500 free halal turkeys were distributed on Tuesday, November 17 to anyone who wanted one—no questions asked.

“Typically, we don’t get so many people,” Tariq said, surveying the line of 70 or so cars waiting to be tested for Covid-19. “But who knows? It could also be because the Covid numbers are going up.”

On Wednesday, November 18, Michigan is implementing a three-week shutdown on public gatherings, including indoor dining. Schools and universities must also switch to remote learning, if they have not already done so. Testing is up, but so too are the rates of infection, with the Michigan’s most recent seven average for daily cases being the highest it has ever been.

Speaking of the recent spike, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said, “We’re in the worst part of the pandemic to date.”

So far, over 8,000 have died due to Covid-19 in Michigan alone.

Lina Hourani-Harajli, the Chief Operating Officer at ACCESS, is proud that ACCESS, who has partnered with Wayne State, were the first in Michigan to start drive-thru testing, way back in March.

“You can’t tell but I am smiling,” Hourani-Harajli said.

It’s quite an impressive, and disciplined, operation. To be tested, you must enter in a vehicle, not on foot. In fact, I watched several people walk up to the testing site and be turned away. The reason, Tariq said, is that it helps avoid people crowding together.

On each side of the parking lot, police officers are stationed to make sure people enter and exit the right way. There are dozens of health care workers present and Tariq estimates that around 200 to 300 people are tested each week at ACCESS alone.

When I interviewed Tariq, the weather was in the 30s with high wind. In fact, a tent covering over the Covid-19 testing area flew off while I was standing beside it.

I asked Tariq how they manage.

“Somehow we just do,” she said.

But there are other challenges, including the highly charged political landscape around Covid-19, as well as what many health workers called “pandemic fatigue.”

Yolanda Harrison, who works at Wayne State and has been helping with the ACCESS Covid-19 testing in Dearborn, said the election heightened tensions and further politicized the pandemic, especially mask wearing.

“If you look at the high rates of infection and where the outbreak is happening right now, it correlates to those areas that voted largely for Trump,” she said.

There are also other factors, however, that predate Trump’s presidency.

“There is often a mistrust in communities of color, and especially in the Black community, about healthcare in America,” Harrison said. “Many Black people have painful experiences of not being listened to or treated with respect by doctors. We need to educate communities and to rebuild that trust.”

Part of the goal of the Covid-19 testing at ACCESS, Tariq told me, is to create a space where everyone is welcome. But it’s also about preserving people’s dignity and making them feel respected.

“We need to make this open to all, including those who are undocumented,” Tariq said. “And we treat people well here because this is a difficult time for everyone.”

Last year, ACCESS gave out free turkeys to those in their domestic violence support group. This year, she said, the free turkey giveaway is a big draw, and she believes one of the reasons is that many are hurting financially, even though they may not say so.

Mona Makki, the Director of ACCESS Community Health and Research Center, has witnessed first-hand the toll that Covid-19 has had on Dearborn. She has seen an increase in mental health issues, domestic violence, as well as unemployment.

She pointed to a corner in the parking lot where people can get advice about job seeking.

“Of course, this day is about Covid-19 testing, but it’s also about uplifting the community in whatever way they need,” Makki said.