Rapid COVID-19 results for travelers is another example of pandemic's unequal impact, health advocates say

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- In Oakland's Fruitvale District, one of the hardest hit by COVID-19 in the Bay Area, organizing testing in the community has been a struggle.

"Not having access to rapid response testing and having to wait two days, three days and at some points early on we were waiting seven days," describes Jane Garcia, CEO at La Clinica, a community-based clinic-provider in the East Bay, on the early days of setting up testing sites.

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And that's why she was less than thrilled about the news that United Airlines would be offering their passengers a chance to get tested before going on vacation, including a rapid COVID19 test for $250 that happens at the airport.

"It does have a way of getting under one's skin," she said, "I think it's important to understand that this is a real true look at what disparities look like."

The American Public Health Association, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C., has also been sounding the alarm on the inequities revealed by the pandemic. Dr. Georges Benjamin says he applauds United Airlines -- the more testing the better. He just wants the government to pay attention to what's missing in the public health system.

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"I wish we could do that nationwide. I know that the administration tried to scale up these tests but we still have far too many people not able to get the tests," he said. " Imagine being able to do this at home, doing this before you go to school, but let me add making sure these tests become affordable."

According to the state's dashboard, the current turnaround time for tests is now down to 1.2 days, an improvement from a summer of backlogs.

Two companies are providing the testing for United Airlines passengers -- Abbott for the rapid on-site test with results in 15 minutes and Color for a mail-in testing kit, that takes several days. Caroline Savello, Chief Commercial Officer at Color, says it's a misconception that the bottleneck for testing is happening at labs, and that testing for companies like United does not compete for public resources.

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"The reality of the United work is that it's not going to be in conflict with those public health priorities," she said, "Being able to do these very distributed models of testing access, like Color is supporting with United, is going to get us to a sense of normalcy."

For Garcia, examples of fast-track testing just reminds her of her mission -- make sure her community is not forgotten.

"I can tell you, we are going to be fighting tooth and nail to make sure that our communities get the same kind of access that the NFL is getting, that professional players are getting, that the airlines are getting," said Garcia.

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