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Wilmington families crowd drugstore test site, to support ‘community pop-ups’

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EastSide Charter principal Aaron Bass talks to a driver waiting in line at Walgreens. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

EastSide Charter principal Aaron Bass talks to a driver waiting in line at Walgreens. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

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Aaron Bass observed the bottleneck of cars growing outside a Walgreens pharmacy near Claymont.

The vehicles, which spilled out onto Philadelphia Pike, were there for drive-up coronavirus testing.

“The line has not moved since I’ve been here,’’ Bass told WHYY News after inviting a reporter to see the logjam. “It is one person in a car, eight minutes per test. We organized this because we wanted to test the system.”

The line of cars waiting for a drive-up COVID-19 test at this Walgreens near Claymont snaked into the street. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Bass heads EastSide Charter School, 4 miles away in Wilmington’s impoverished Riverside area, where almost all residents are Black. The school has hosted two pop-up sites in its parking lot this month, including Wednesday, when 500 people were tested in 3 ½ hours. That’s 20 people every eight minutes.

One person being tested at EastSide was William DeLussey, who works nearby. It took him just a few minutes to register using his cell phone and complete the non-intrusive saliva swab test at EastSide as a steady stream of people did the same.

“I have done it here before,” DeLussey said. “I like the way it’s set up. It’s efficient. it doesn’t cause any kind of confusion and congestion. It’s off the beaten path, yet it’s accessible enough for people to get to.”

William DeLussey praised the efficiency and easy of the “community pop-up” testing site at EastSide Charter School in Wilmington. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

In Delaware, where nearly 20,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 258,000 have tested negative since the first case was recorded March 11, a robust menu of testing options is available.

Residents can go to 19 permanent sites at state service facilities and health centers, drive up to the window at eight Walgreens pharmacies, do at-home, mail-in evaluations, and walk or drive into parking lots at several so-called “community pop-up’ sites. (Click here to find where to get a test in Delaware today or in the future.)

The number of pop-up sites has fluctuated between six and 18 a week in recent months, but last month the state announced that because of a decline in the testing numbers there, they would likely cut down to just three each week.

That decision concerned Bass, who pushed back and said the pop-up sites were needed in vulnerable communities like Riverside, where many residents lack transportation or do not trust in the medical system. He pointed out that Black and Latino Delawareans have contracted the coronavirus at much higher rates than white or Asian residents, so the need for easy access to testing is acute.

So he organized school parents and friends to go to the Walgreens on Wednesday to dramatize the issue — both over the ease of well-staffed pop-up sites vs. a stationary window like that at Walgreens, and of having to drive several miles for a test.

On hand to watch were Trippi Congo, who this month was elected president of Wilmington City Council, and Coby Owens, who lost a bid for a council seat and led a large and peaceful racial justice protest in Wilmington in June.

EastSide Charter parent Ronnell Page took his mom and a co-worker to the Walgreens but decided the line was too long. Other cars waiting on the roadway left the line.

Ronnell Page said it’s “ridiculous” for drivers to have to wait in line at Walgreens. He wants the state to keep “pop-up” sites like the one at EastSide Charter. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“This is ridiculous,’’ Page said. “My mom is on her break, she has been having some coughing and stuff, so I wanted to get her tested.”

A.J. Schall, head of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, told WHYY the state hears the concerns, and agrees with them. He said the state will likely have eight to 10 pop-up sites weekly.

The sites would likely move around as demand and needs dictate, and the state will take pains to ensure that vulnerable populations have access to testing, he said.

“We’re not getting out of the pop-up or drive-through business,’’ Schall said. “We are making sure we are putting them in the right locations at the right times for people to be tested.”

Bass said he’s gratified the state has reconsidered and hopes officials don’t renege on their pledge.

“We want to make sure that stays the case, especially as it gets to the winter months,’’ Bass said as he motioned to the cars at a standstill in the Walgreens lot. “Because you have to stay in your car [at the pharmacy], and we’ve been told the wait could be 2 ½ hours.”

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