FAIRMONT — Two orderly rows of cars lined the length of Windmill Park’s parking lot and well down Ogden Avenue, their drivers and passengers sitting patiently inside idling vehicles as health department attendants in full protective medical gear greeted them with clipboards in hand, jotting down contact information.
The COVID-19 testing procedure for which residents had waited in line was itself quite rapid. A sentence or two of instruction, a nose swab lasting a couple seconds, and the cars and their passengers head out of the park and back into a world increasingly revamped by a pandemic now approaching the half-year mark with no end in sight.
Saturday was drive-thru coronavirus testing day in Fairmont. From early morning through late afternoon, community members turned out en mass.
A total of 641 local residents were tested for COVID-19 on Saturday, exceeding the figure of 575 tests conducted over a two-day period in May.
“One hour into the testing, 275 cars had already passed through. There was a mad rush early on,” said Tiffany Walker Samuels, a commissioner with the COVID-19 West Virginia African-American Task Force and an organizer of the event.
Testing for citizens was free of charge, provided by federal CARES Act funding.
The faces inside the cars reflected all colors of a multiracial society, including local Black males, who were heavily recruited and encouraged to be tested.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American males are 50% more likely to contract coronavirus than any other group, mostly because they often hold jobs deemed essential, which puts them in frequent contact with many sectors of society.
“To recruit African-American men, we worked with the Masons, who helped spread the word and recruit some of the men,” said Walker Samuels.
Overall, African-Americans account for 30% of all coronavirus cases in the U.S. despite comprising only 13% of the population.
“I’ve seen a lot of African-American males driving through in cars, bringing their grandmothers, bringing their wives, bringing their sisters,” said Romelia Hodges, who is also a commissioner with the COVID-19 task force. “This has been an outpouring of love from the community. We’re taking care of each other by knowing our COVID status.”
This rise in area coronavirus cases has quickly shifted from older individuals to younger citizens. A month ago, the average age of a COVID-19-infected person in North Central West Virginia was 37. This week, it is 23 years old.
Marion County Health Department Administrator Lloyd White, who was on hand conducting tests, stressed the importance of accurate figures when it comes to battling the virus.
“We really want to know what the prevalence of COVID-19 is in our county. And the only way to know what those numbers are is for people to be tested,” said White. “It helps us identify potential cases in our community, which gives us a better idea of the virus’ prevalence here.”
Walker Samuels credited a “tremendous amount of support from volunteers” for the testing event’s success.
“More than 30 volunteers, including a local sorority and an African-American youth coalition, helped with distributing flyers around town and registering participants,” she said.
Members of the Fairmont Police Department, the West Virginia National Guard, and the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources were on hand as well. The testing itself was carried out by health department officials from both Marion and Taylor counties.
According to DHHR’s Sunday report of coronavirus numbers, Marion County had 168 cases, up two from Friday’s report. On July 1, Marion County had only 58 cases of COVID-19 reported. As of 10 a.m. Saturday, there have been 287,084 total confirmed lab results received for COVID-19, with 6,735 total cases and 116 deaths in West Virginia, two of those deaths were in Marion County.